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CANNES: Argentine Production Surges

An exceptional four Argentine movies play Cannes: That high pic count is no coincidence

Four films from Argentine helmers — Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales,” Pablo Fendrik’s “El Ardor,” Lisandro Alonso’s “Jauja,” and Pablo Lerman’s “Refugiado” — were selected for Cannes.

Four more movies from Argentina made the cut at February’s Berlin festival.

That national splash is exceptional, even for most established Western Europe pic production powers. Whatever its final Croisette kudos count – and Alonso “Jauja” has just won a Fipresci prize for best film in Un Certain Regard – Argentina’s film production industry is on an roll. Why is another matter.

“There’s something about the DNA of Argentine storytelling. Argentina was the first country in Latin America to have a film industry,” said Axel Kuschevatzky, Telefonica Studios’ head of international production.

Now, at least three new factors are in play. It’s no coincidence that all four Argentine films are their directors’ third (“El Ardor,” “Wild Tales”) or fourth (“Refugiado”) or fifth feature. As over much of Latin America (think Gerardo Naranjo with “Miss Bala,” Alejandro Fernandez Almendras’ “To Kill a Man,” Alicia Sherson’s “The Future,” Hector Dhalia “Bald Mountain”), a generation which broke through with edgy, minimalist, radical, shoestring or intimate dramas now has a clutch of films under its belt, often fest faves and critical raves, and wants to step up into something larger, more mainstream, sometimes incorporating genre tropes, seeking to reaches broader audiences.

Some even boast stars: “Jauja,” for example, toplines Viggo Mortenssen, “El Ardor” Gael Garcia Bernal (also a producer) and Alice Braga.

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In Argentina, again as over much of Latin America, directors also have the financing wherewithal to make these moves.

Channeled via its INCAA Film Institute, Argentine film subsidies per film were capped at Pesos 1.5 million in 2000, Pesos 5.5 million ($682,000, in current currency terms) in 2012, INCAA president Maria Lucrecia Cardoso pointed out at Cannes.

From the private sector, Telefonica, via Argentine broadcaster Telefe, began to invest in Argentine features with Juan Jose Campanella’s “The Secret in Their Eyes.” Telefonica Studios now invests in a broad range of eight features a year, sometimes international co-productions to broaden overseas potential, Kuschevatzky said. These include “Wild Tales” and “El Ardor.”

1.375 million pesos in 2007, the average budget of an Argentine feature rose 60% to 3.4 million pesos ($422,000) last year, per Cardoso.

For Kuschevatzky, “What we’re seeing increasingly Argentina are commercial genre movies made from an auteur viewpoint, rather like in the ‘70s New Hollywood Cinema,”

Though Fendrik, Alonso and Leman are Riviera regulars, “Wild Tales,” “El Ardor,” “Refugiado” and “Jauja” were not made primarily to snag selection at Cannes. But, they’re the kind of films, titles where directors don’t simply repeat themselves, more open arthouse plays, a mix of art film and classical narrative, – which Cannes, under Thierry Fremaux, often welcomes.

Berlin is another narrative. Benjamin Naishtat “History of Fear” and Celina Murga’s “The Third Side of the River” made competition; Ines Maria Barrionuevo’s “Atlantida” and Mateo Lucchesi’s “Natural Sciences” played Generation. The last three were all shot by their directors in their native regions outside Buenos Aires: “Atlantida” and “Natural Sciences” in Cordoba, “River” in Entre Rios.

The surge of regional cinema reflects economic realities. “For years, Buenos Aires province and city represents about 80% of Argentine ticket sales. Now it’s more like 60%,” said Kuschevatzky.

A clutch of factors – governments keen to create advanced service sector industries, often in traditionally rural economies; proliferating film schools; access to low-cost high-quality digital tech; building regional TV networks – are powering up regional industries over Latin America, from Mexico’s Guadalajara to Brazil’s Belo Horizonte.

Argentina is no exception. Its 2009 Law of Audiovisual Communication Services has attempted a thorough federalization of production, Cardoso said. Notably, of the 46 TV series subsidized by its central government since 2011, companies based outside Buenos Aires, won 38. Eight went to the western province of Mendoza alone.

Until recently, the Argentine capital totally dominated film production. Now Argentine regional production is kicking in, gaining force.

Passage-into-adulthood-themed “Atlantida” or Sergio Mazza’s “The Kid,” a current early flagship of Entre Rios production, have tapped into regional funding.

Per Cardoso, 24 films – live action movies, toon pics, docu features – and seven TV movies which shot outside Buenos Aires are currently in production or post-production.

The virtues of films shot in Cordoba or Entre Rios does not boil down to their vision of existence outside Buenos Aires. But the uniqueness of setting- the scorched small-town of “Atlantida,” the singular flatlands of Entre Rios – serve up natural metaphors for their movies’ characters and state, and forefront the universality of their emotions.

Argentina has just launched a first call for multi-platform projects, targeting 13-seg series that will play two other formats. Cell phones and Internet, for example, Cardoso said. Winners will be spread across Argentina.

“The state can promote and develop, but sustainable film/TV business models have to exist,” fir production to be viable, Cardoso said at Cannes.

If the Argentine movie business is to grow any more, The main challenge, said Kuschevatzsky, is “how to channel outside money into Argentina’s film and TV market.”

That could come via a tax rebates, already up-and-running in Mexico and Colombia.

“If we don’t create them soon, our industry will fall behind,” he added.

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