Mar del Plata fest grows

Event focuses on Latin American cinema

TIP SHEET
What: Mar del Plata Intl. Film Festival
When: March 8-18, 2007
Where: Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires province, Argentina
Director: Miguel Pereira
Phone: +54 11 4383 5115 (Buenos Aires)
Web: mardelplatafilmfest.com

* * *

BUENOS AIRES — Flanked by beach breaks with fine surf and relaxingly expansive grasslands, Mar del Plata is a favorite for stressed urbanites — and a new hot spot for Latin American filmmakers.

Running March 8-18, the Mar del Plata Intl. Film Festival is a must-go for local film enthusiasts, offering 300 titles, most of which can’t be seen commercially.

Celebrities — Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon attended in 2006 — are making the long trip to Latin America’s only FIAPF Category One event, a sign of its recovery from poor programming, disorder and money problems earlier this decade.

The challenge is to sustain the momentum and become a vehicle for promoting Latin-American films, a goal that director Miguel Pereira is keen to reach in his fifth year on the job.

“We began timidly, and this year we are achieving (the objective of) centralizing Latin American production in Mar del Plata and showing the newest of the new” from the region, says the Argentine helmer of “The Internal Debt” and “The Man Who Came to a Village.”

The new revolution is a Latin American competition for some 15 first and second films, most making their world premieres. They will vie for a prize named after Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, with the winner picking up $50,000. Director and producer will evenly split $20,000 development coin for a future project. The rest will go to the distributor taking it on for a release in Argentina –$30,000 for copies, marketing and promotion.

“The idea is to encourage the distribution and exhibition of Latin American cinema in Argentina,” Pereira says.”We have lost the tradition of watching our own cinema.”

The advent of the Che spurred 150 submissions from Bolivia to Colombia and Mexico — triple the average of previous years.

Mar del Plata organizers have invited festival programmers from around the world to see the latest in Latin American cinema, giving rookies a chance for exposure. “This makes it easier for programmers to see what’s on offer, instead of having to travel from here to there and there,” says Pereira.

An important component of Mar del Plata is its strong turnout of ordinary folk, making it a testing ground for reactions, he says.

Of last year’s 140,000 admissions, 75% were locals. The rest included film buffs –some 16,000 students are enrolled in film schools in Argentina — who made the six-hour drive from Buenos Aires or farther away.

In the Latin competition, “Cocalero” (Bolivia), a world preem at this year’s Sundance, will vie for honors. Directed by Alejandro Landes, it follows Ay-maran Indian Evo Morales’ campaign to become the first president of Bolivia from an indigenous tribe.

It’ll go against Mexican Francisco Vargas’ “The Violin,” Brazilian Marcelo Santiago’s “Dancing in Utopia,” Cuban Pavel Giroud’s “La edad de la peseta” and Paraguayan Ramiro Gomez’s “Red Land.”

In the official lineup, “Bamako” (The Court) by Mauritanian helmer Abderrahmane Sissako will screen. Unfolding in a residential courtyard, it tells the story of an African tribunal against the backdrop of the World Bank.

Also in competition are Spaniard Albert Serra’s Don Quixote riff “Honor de cavalleria” (Honor of the Knights), which screened in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight last year; Jiska Rickels’ (the Netherlands) docu “4 Elements”; Brazilian Carlos Diegues’ “O Maior Amor do Mundo” (The Greatest Love in the World); and Cesc Gay’s Spanish critical stunner “Ficcion.”

From Argentina, Gustavo Postiglione’s “La peli,” about a filmmaker’s breakdown, and Hernan Gaffet’s tango-tinged dramedy “Ciudad en cello” are also competing.

In another addition, film critics from British, Canadian, Spanish and other magazines are flying in to discuss the latest in the world of movies, an action spearheaded by Argentine film critic Eduardo “Quintin” Antin, a former director of the Buenos Aires Intl. Festival of Independent Films.

Argentine philosophers and writers will hold discussions on film for the public. Argentine critics are scheduled to talk before some screenings, with the film’s director fielding questions afterward.

“In years before, we spoke about production, subsidies, contests. At this festival, we are going to start to talk about film again,” says Pereira.

Hollywood dominates 80% of box office receipts in Argentina, partly due to the perception that anything else is overly intellectual or boring or not worth the 9-peso to 15-peso ($2.90-$4.90) ticket fee.

To that end, the fest has scrapped a sales and co-production market this year after two editions. It will be moved to another time and likely held in easier-to-reach Buenos Aires, home to the country’s industry.

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