San Luis’ bridge to film business

Governor earmarks $7 mil a year for production

SAN LUIS, ARGENTINA — Alberto Rodriguez Saa is winning fans in the movie world.

As governor of San Luis, a province in central Argentina, he is building an industry with well-equipped studios and ample state funding. He has earmarked $7 million a year for production, or nearly a third of the federal government’s film budget.

“This is all very incipient,” he told Variety from his home, an eccentric hilltop creation with purple and orange walls and octopus-formed lamps made from car exhaust pipes.

“We have developed a lot, but we want to grow a lot more. Hollywood took a long time to develop,” says the politician, who finished fourth in this year’s presidential race.

An abstract painter, Rodriguez Saa, 58, and his older brother Adolfo, who between them have ruled the province for more than two decades, created the incentive program in 1999 to attract production and construct an industry of actors, cinematographers, directors and technicians. They want filmmakers to think of San Luis, population 370,000, as Latin America’s Hollywood.

It is getting noticed. Catherine Deneuve, Geraldine Chaplin, Emma Suarez and Maria Grazia Cucinotta made the trip to San Luis, 500 miles west of Buenos Aires, for its first international film festival, held Nov. 16-25. And Norma Argentina has emerged as a talent from San Luis, thanks to her performance in Sundance-laurelled drama “Cama adentro” (Live-In Maid), co-financed by the province.

Rodriguez Saa commissioned the annual fest to bring in talent and help promote the production capacity of San Luis, with its varied locations and old villages. The winners scooped a total of $65,000 in prize money, among the richest in the country.

Since the early 2000s, San Luis has funded telenovelas, animated features and two dozen films, with filmmakers turning to the province for easier-to-access financing, low production costs and less-crowded studios than Buenos Aires, the heart of the industry in Argentina. Tristan Bauer picked up coin for his Tribeca-winning war pic “Iluminados por el fuego” (Enlightened by Fire), as did Spaniard Anton Reixa for “Hotel Tivoli.”

Spain’s Laura Mana of “Killing Words” will direct “Ni Dios, ni patron, ni marido,” about four women in Argentina who form a feminist newspaper, with San Luis financing.

Luring Foreign Shoots

 The aim now is to bring in more foreign productions to help fill a new $3 million studio, one of the best-equipped in Argentina.

The hitch in tapping San Luis incentives is the requirement to hire 50% of a film’s tech crews and 10%-20% of its thesps from the province, even though talent is sparse and lacking experience.

This, however, “will make the industry grow fast,” hopes Boy Olmi (“When She Jumped”), an actor who will make his directing debut in the province with San Luis-backed “Sangre del Pacifico” (Pacific Blood).

Eliseo Subiela, director of the Goya-laurelled “Man Looking Southeast,” is prepping his second San Luis-backed film, the $600,000 love story “Rehen de ilusiones” to lense next year.

“San Luis has become a backbone of production in Argentina,” along with the federal film board Incaa and foreign co-productions, says Subiela, who filmed “El resultado del amor” with San Luis funds.

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