Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is getting into the film business.
The president’s year-old state-sponsored studio complex Villa del Cine will funnel $18 million into “Toussaint,” the pet project of thesp-activist Danny Glover, who plans to co-produce as well as make it his feature directing debut.
Budgeted at $30 million, biopic tracks the life of Francois-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, leader of the18th century slave rebellion that led to the founding of Haiti. No cast has yet been confirmed. Glover’s Louverture Films is in talks with other potential co-production partners.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Venezuelan filmmakers are furious.
“Eighteen million could fund five years of local cinema in Venezuela,” said helmer Jose Novoa (“Sicario”). “And the film’s not even about Venezuela.”
“With so much poverty in our country, I can’t deny that it infuriates and hurts me deeply,” said “Secuestro Express” writer-helmer Jonathan Jakubowicz of Chavez’s film foray.
“We have a mandate to support films that deal with the recovery of national identity and integration,” said Villa del Cine director Lorena Almarza. “By shooting here, the project will cost a third of what it would cost if made in Hollywood.”
Villa del Cine, a $13 million studio complex that includes soundstages and post-production facilities, is in production on “Miranda Regresa,” a biopic on Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda. It is also developing a feature film and miniseries on 19th century peasant leader Ezequiel Zamora.
Villa del Cine has been in talks with “Children of Men” co-scribe Timothy J. Sexton to develop a screenplay for a biopic on Simon Bolivar, the leader of various independence movements across South America and an inspiration for Chavez’s controversial socio-economic reforms.
Glover is among a number of high-profile U.S. supporters of Chavez that includes crooner Harry Belafonte and Princeton U. scholar Cornel West.
Glover has met Chavez during several visits to Venezuela and has even appeared on Chavez’s talkshow, “Hello, President.”