Local pix set to challenge H’wood

Argentina film industry encouraged by local govt

BUENOS AIRES Argentina’s hottest helmers are preparing films for this year, raising expectations that the local industry could be a stronger challenge to Hollywood at the box office. They’re talking a market share of as much as 25% for domestic pics, something not seen in years.

Could it happen? A look at upcoming releases suggests yes. Yet more important, industry insiders say, the ramped-up output is a good sign for years ahead.

It is largely a response to recent government measures to step up financing and promotion for the domestic film industry.

In 2002, it boosted the industry’s take of what the state collects in ad revenue from TV and radio to 40% from 27%. And it made the state-run National Film Institute (Incaa), a primary source of funding for directors, financially autonomous. The move lifted Incaa’s budget by 20%. At the same time, the institute stepped up promotions to bring in more foreign co-production dollars and lift exports, a key source of revenue.

This year, things look “impressive,” says Octavio Nadal, sales manager of the country’s biggest production company, Patagonik Film Group, backed by Argentina’s Grupo Clarin, Spain’s Admira and Walt Disney’s Buena Vista Intl.

“I don’t remember a year with such a magnitude of production by such a high caliber of directors,” he says.

By most calculations, movie admissions will reach 35 million in 2004, up from 33 million in 2003 and 30.5 million in 2002. With an average share of 15%, domestic pics should net 5.1 million admissions, 55% more than 2003’s 3.3 million.

Get three or four blockbusters like in 2000, when Juan Jose Jusid’s father-and-son comedy “Papa es un idolo” (Dad is an Idol) and Fabian Bielinsky’s crime caper “Nueve reinas” (Nine Queens) each sold more than 1.2 million tickets, and Argentine pics could take 25% of the box office, biting into Hollywood’s average of 75-80%, says Nadal.

The number crunching takes on more realism with a look at this year’s lineup.

For a start, Luis Puenzo, director of the 1985 Oscar-winning “La historia oficial” (The Official Story), is preparing “La puta y la ballena” (The Whore and the Whale), the tale of a woman’s journey of self discovery in Patagonia.

Alejandro Agresti, whose latest film “Valentin” is Argentina’s submission for the upcoming Oscars, is doing re-encounter drama “Un mundo menos peor” (A Less Bad World). And Juan Jose Campanella is preparing working-class drama “La luna de Avellaneda” (The Moon of Avellaneda), his follow-up to 2001 foreign-lingo Oscar-nominated “The Son of the Bride.”

Carlos Sorin (“Minimal Stories”) will release “Le chien” (The Dog), about a depressed old man who’s fortunes improve when he gets a dog. Fabian Bielinsky is preparing the thriller “El aura” (The Aura), his follow-up to “Nine Queens.”

Also on the agenda is “Marea” (Tide), directed by Eduardo Mignogna (“Cleopatra,” “The Escape”). Set in Patagonia, it is a tale of a wife’s search for a husband lost in the 1982 Falkland Islands war between Argentina and Britain. Adolfo Aristarain (“Common Places”) is preparing “Roma,” about an old man remembering his life as he writes his autobiography.

Pablo Trapero (“El Bonaerense”) will release the road movie “Familia rodante” (Rolling Family), and Miguel Pereira (“The Internal Debt”) will put out “El hombre que llego a un pueblo” (The Man Who Arrived at a Village), about an outsider mistaken by villagers for a priest.

Lucrecia Martel (“The Swamp”) is readying “La nina santa” (The Holy Girl), about a girl out to save the soul of an old man. Veteran helmer Hector Olivera (“A Shadow You Soon Will Be”) is making “Ay Juancito,” about Eva Peron’s brother. And Martin Rejtman (“Silvia Prieto”) is preparing “Los Guantes Magicos” (The Magic Gloves), a comedy about a cabbie who loses his car.

Also readying pics are young directors including Alejandro Chomski (“Today and Tomorrow”), Celina Murga (“Ana and the Others”), Albertina Carri (“The Blonds”) and Daniel Burman (“Waiting for the Messiah”), among others.

Some projects expected to draw large, young crowds are Jose Luis Massa’s animated epic “Patoruzito” and a teen pic featuring the stars of pop group Erreway. Tipped to direct is Tomas Yankelvich, whose “Vivir intentando” (Live Trying), a movie starring pop band Bandana, was the highest grossing domestic film of 2003.

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