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One way for a foreign film to secure Stateside theatrical release is to win an Oscar. Argentine pics have done so twice — with “The Official Story” in 1986, and 2009 with “The Secret in Their Eyes.” Such a win gains valuable exposure and prestige, as does a trophy in Cannes or another premiere fest. But it’s not an easy strategy.

So local filmmakers have been trying a more reliable approach, bringing Hollywood stars to Argentina in a bid to attract U.S. distribs and snare more international sales.

Alejandro Agresti is directing John Cusack in “Dictablanda,” a bilingual comedy of manners about two American tourists in Buenos Aires co-produced by Pampa Films and New Crime Prods.

“If you have a story and an international figure like Cusack, you don’t have to create a masterpiece that will win an Oscar so people will want to distribute the film in the U.S.,” says Juan Pablo Buscarini, a producer at Pampa Films.

Agresti likely had an easier time than most Argentine directors in snaring Cusack and Paul Hipp. He has worked for years in Hollywood, sharpening his skills by directing Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in “The Lake House.”

Ana Piterbarg didn’t have such an easy time. She had directed a short and assisted on films like “Goodbye Moon” — a thin resume for landing big talent for her debut feature. Yet when she ran into Viggo Mortensen in Buenos Aires, she asked if he would read her script for “Everyone Has a Plan,” a thriller about a man who takes on the identity of his deceased twin brother.

Mortensen, who spent part of his youth in Argentina, not only humored her but agreed to star, reportedly attracted by the challenge of playing both brothers. Without him, the $3.5 million film hadn’t been able to raise financing in Argentina alone for what promises to be a demanding nine-week shoot, steep in special effects and action scenes, including shootouts and two boat explosions in Tigre (a delta region outside Buenos Aires navigated only by boat).

“With the entry of Viggo, what wasn’t viable became possible,” says Vanessa Ragone, who is producing through Haddock Films.

The fact the film is in Spanish remains an obstacle to investors, Ragone explains.

“Without Viggo the script wouldn’t even get a first read,” she says. “Now the film is traveling to the desks of producers everywhere. This is making it so that Argentine film is getting spoken about in international markets, which is better than having one film stir up buzz every 10 years.”

Argentina: Sector seeks stories | Argentina using U.S. talent to prop pics | Microbudget surge yields big profits | Slate sampler

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