Argentine art lover tangos with Weinsteins

CANNES — The Weinstein Co. is forming a Latin American film fund with Argentine entrepreneur and arts patron Eduardo Costantini Jr. Fund will financially back the production and acquisition of about 14 Latin American pics over the next three to four years.

Sources say the fund is worth some $50 million-plus.

Pic acquisitions would average around $2.5 million per film, and production investment would run between $4 million to $10 million per movie.

Weinstein Co. topper Harvey Weinstein said that his company will seek, in “90% of the cases,” to pick up world rights to any acquisitions that would then be sold through TWC’s international arm. A Latin American distribution partnership is expected to close soon.

Fund looks set to have a sizeable impact on Latin American filmmaking, where average budgets run around $1 million to $1.5 million. And, mixed with Latin American state subsidies and ever greater coin being freed up from tax breaks — the new system in Mexico could provide some $50 million in film investment a year — the new film fund has considerable financing leverage.

First project to be unveiled under the plan is “Elite Squad,” a gritty action-packed pic based on a true story from Brazil’s “Bus 174″ helmer Jose Padilha. “City of God” scribe Brulio Mantovani is penning the screenplay.

Costantini Jr. is managing the fund, which will also include investors Kelly Park Argentina — planned Buenos Aires studio facility from New Zealand’s Kelly Park Film Village — and Banif Investment Banking, a Portuguese investment bank.

Investors are taking roughly equal stakes in the fund.

Pics will be in English, Spanish or Portuguese, and have some Latin American element, whether it is a director, subject, shooting locale or cast.

“We will not be doing a film with an American director and a name cast from the United States,” said Costantini, who pointed to “Frida” as a pic that would be indicative of the films the fund wants to support.

Costantini added that he’s in the process of closing deals with production and distrb outfits in Mexico and Brazil that will take advantage of local tax credits.

The Costantini family are philanthropists, who put together one of the most important collections of 20th century Latin American art worldwide, and who want Latin American culture to walk a wider world stage.

Move marks a step-up in Costantini’s involvement in film: The Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires (MALBA), which houses the Costantini collection, already screens and restores films, and the Constantinis have arranged exhibitions on Abbas Kiarostami, Glauber Rocha and Chantal Akerman, as well as producing docus on writers, including Paul Auster, and filmmakers Akerman and Alex de la Iglesia.

Costantini Jr. has been attending film fests for the past two years as he sought to enter the film biz. He first began talking to the Weinsteins when they were still at Miramax Films, but had concentrated on his museum’s program first.

“This is a step forward for Latin American cinema, and to further Latin American culture,” said Weinstein. “And this is also about Eduardo building a company. He loves movies and has devoted himself to cinema.”

At Miramax, Bob and Harvey Weinstein handled pics including “Frida,” “City of God,” “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Secuestro Express.”

Padilha and James Darcy are producing “Elite Squad” for Brazilian production unit Zazen Producoes Audiovisuais, and TWC takes world rights outside South America.

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