Coppola partners Spain and Argentina

'Tetro' used Euro financing, Southern location

Argentina’s splendid vineyards might have helped, but Francis Ford Coppola had multiple other reasons to shoot Cannes Directors’ Fortnight opener “Tetro” there.

Even so, like an increasing number of U.S. indies, he turned to Europe, accessing co-financing coin, both hard and soft, to get “Tetro” made.

Co-financing from Spain and Italy proved crucial, giving the famed director an extensive shoot at one of Europe’s cutting-edge film studios, Ciudad de la Luz in Alicante. Spanish input also helped secure two of the country’s leading actresses: Maribel Verdu (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) and Almodovar muse Carmen Maura (“Volver”).

Above all, it helped turn a “small, indie and personal feature,” as Coppola calls it, into a reality.

In a story reminiscent of Coppola’s own life and roots, “Tetro” centers on an exiled writer living in Buenos Aires played by Vincent Gallo, who is visited by his estranged brother. Along with Verdu and Maura, the cast includes rising star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Gallo’s younger brother, and Klaus Maria Brandauer as the imperious father.

“A story of brothers and fathers and that whole male competitive line within a family that has creative people in it,” in Coppola’s words, “Tetro” has been in the works for decades. The first script dates back to 1974 and was already set partially in Argentina.

“Argentina has a strong cinema tradition, (such) great talent, and we share tradition and tastes,” says Mariela Besuievsky of Spain’s Tornasol Films, a co-producer on “Tetro.”

In a way, Coppola — after years of lavish and increasingly commercial studio productions — has reinvented himself as an independent, international filmmaker. And while his last film made under this business model, “Youth Without Youth” (2007), failed to galvanize either critics or auds, “Tetro” has two things going for it.

Drawing on his own competitive relationship with his conductor father, Carmine Coppola, for inspiration, “Tetro” is the first original screenplay directed by Coppola since 1974’s “The Conversation,” and it reunites him with some of the below-the-line talent that gave “Youth Without Youth” its richness: composer Osvaldo Golijov and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. Coppola’s longtime collaborator Walter Murch edited the picture.

Production could have been put through Buenos Aires’ Haddock Films, co-owned by Tornasol. Instead, Coppola established his own Buenos Aires-based Zoetrope Argentine, which put up 45% of the budget; Tornasol took 35% equity, while Italy’s BIM Distribuzione claims 20%.

Shooting took place in Buenos Aires, Patagonia and Spain’s Ciudad de la Luz in Alicante. “Tetro” shot over 16 weeks beginning in spring 2008 for $7.8 million. The modest outlay can be attributed in part to Argentine lower costs.

Tornasol produced five films in 2008; it has a nine-feature slate this year. Its involvement also aided Spanish distribution for “Tetro,” via Alta Films, which handles most Tornasol films in Spain. BIM will handle Italian distribution.

Out of 27 Spanish co-productions with Latin America last year, 16 were with Argentina. There were 19 Argentina-Spanish co-productions in 2007.

Certainly the common language bolsters other advantages in the cultural exchange.

Co-producing with Latin America is “natural, with a great artistic and technical input from both sides,” says Jose Maria Morales of Spain’s Wanda Films. And as international distributors call for more realistically priced movies, the contained costs of “Tetro” make its prospects at Cannes all the more promising.

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