Provincial incentives bring the biz to San Luis

Hollywood heads to Argentina

BUENOS AIRES — San Luis has gone “Sallywood” under pols intent on turning the province into a prime Latin America film destination.

Through a program created by Adolfo and Alberto Rodriguez Saa, who’ve ruled the province northwest of Buenos Aires for nearly two decades, San Luis has co-produced or helped finance 23 feature films, including this year’s domestic box office boffo pic, “Iluminados por el fuego” (Enlightened by Fire). San Luis also recently opened a $2.2 million studio.

Gov. Alberto, himself an artist, and Adolfo, a senator best known for trying to default on Argentina’s $140 billion debt during his seven days as president in 2001, set up the program in 1999 to attract film production to create jobs and spur tourism in the province, population 370,000.

While the vast majority of films are still made in Buenos Aires, proponents laud San Luis as a cheaper, less crowded alternative.

“It’s impossible for us to get in” to Buenos Aires studios, says Fernando Musa, a helmer-producer who filmed “Chiche bombon” in San Luis with a $300,000 credit. “San Luis has the advantage of locations. It has stunning natural scenery and people in the city will lend you their home and collaborate on exterior shots.”

“If the script has scenes that can be filmed there, we will apply for financing,” says Vanessa Ragone, owner of Zona Audiovisual. The Buenos Aires outfit secured $92,000 for “Hermanas” (Sisters), a $1.1 million pic directed by Julia Solomonoff that it produced with Argentina’s Patagonik and Spain’s Tornasol.

Spain’s Anton Reixa (“The Carpenter’s Pencil”) recently lensed parts of “Hotel Tivoli” in San Luis, and Argentina’s Oscar-winning art director Eugenio Zanetti made his directing debut there with “Arbol de fuego” (Tree of Fire). Faye Dunaway is considering producing there, as is local TV impresario Marcelo Tinelli.

There are some drawbacks, however. Subsidies and co-production coin require beneficiaries to hire 50% of tech crews and 10%-20% of thesps from the province, even though local talent is still sparse and lacking experience.

Alvaro Urtizberea, who is co-producing Diego Lublinsky’s $650,000 time-warp love tale “Tres minutos” (Three Minutes) under his Vista Sur Films banner, says he spent a third of the $50,000 credit to move his Buenos Aires crew there.

In May, protestors burned down a set and the front door of a production house, forcing producers of “Hermanas” to wait until things cooled down; insurers barred them from taking stars to the province during the protests.

Musa says the incidents were tied to October’s congressional election, adding that no problems have come up since.

“Pura sangre” (Pure Blood) co-producer Leo Ricciardi lauds San Luis as a more accessible alternative to state film board Incaa, which has a $30 million annual budget. San Luis Cine, the province’s film council, is co-producing “Pura sangre” with Argentina’s Odisea Films, Spain’s Aligator Prods. and France’s Mact Prods.

Says Ricciardi, “All first- timers are seeking money in San Luis.”

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