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Latin tempo reverberates through film world

  • Story Highlights
  • A two-part biopic of Che Guevara is among Latin-themed films at Cannes
  • Latin American movie talent is enjoying huge success around the world
  • Brazil, Argentina and Mexico are attracting Hollywood films to shoot there
  • Brazilian director Walter Salles says Latin film-makers help each other succeed
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By Paul Willis
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- There has been a distinctly Latin flavor to this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Benicio del Toro as Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna in a biopic of the revolutionary leader.

There are two Argentinian films and a Brazilian one in competition, as well as an English language offering called "Blindness," starring Julianne Moore, from Brazilian director Fernando Meireilles, who shot to fame in 2003 with "City of God."

This show of force at Cannes reflects a growing confidence in the region's movie industry with South American movie-makers developing a worldwide reputation and a recent flurry of U.S. films made on the continent.

"Che", Steven Soderbergh's two-part biopic of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara -- also showing at Cannes -- was shot in Mexico. Next year, in Brazil Paramount will begin filming a follow-up to 2003 remake of "The Italian Job", called "The Brazilian Job."

Meanwhile, the Argentine capital Buenos Aires hosted three international film productions last year.

Brazilian director Walter Salles, whose latest feature "Linha de Passe" is leading the charge at the festival, says recent success attracting investment to the continent is helped by a strong sense of solidarity among the region's filmmakers.

"It's the conscience that we'll only survive if we are a group," Salles told CNN.

Salles, who scored a worldwide success in 2004 with "The Motorcycle Diaries", is helping to foster this sense of togetherness.

He runs a production company with his brother for first-time directors back home in Brazil, and in his latest film -- which chronicles the lives of four brothers from Sao Paulo -- he cast unknown locals, many of whom had never acted. He compares it to earlier movements in film, such as the U.S. independent movie scene of the seventies or the French new wave cinema of the sixties.

"I mean the countries that really had an importance in cinema at a given time were those where filmmakers acted as a unified group.

"Scorsese and Coppola in the seventies. They had that sense of unity in U.S independent cinema, and that is what we're trying to do in Brazil."

It is one of those two illustrious directors, Francis Ford Coppola, who is at the vanguard of the growing Hollywood interest in South American film. Last year, Coppola opened an Argentine subsidiary of his Zoetrope production company and has already begun filming an immigration drama called "Tetro" in Buenos Aires.

Coppola was attracted by the cheaper production costs and generous subsidies aimed at kick starting outside investment -- he is reportedly getting up to $700,000 to finance "Tetro" from the Argentinian Film Institute.

Although he told trade magazine Screen International that shooting in Argentina could turn out 30 per cent cheaper than the U.S., Coppola says it is not just about the money. The director of "Apocalypse Now" and "The Godfather" trilogy said he was also attracted by "the creative inspiration I find on the streets."

He praised local production crews for their "artistic-aesthetic vision and a cinephile sensibility."

This creative bent has seen Latin American films and film-makers conquer the globe in recent years. Apart from Salles' "The Motorcycle Diaries", films like "City of God" and the Mexican movies "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mamá También" have proved surprise hits around the world.

Latin American movie-makers working abroad such as the Oscar-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who made the spellbinding "Pan's Labyrinth", have also helped put the continent on the map.

According to Salles, film-makers from the region have been able to create such successful and imaginative movies because of the raw material provided by the Latin American experience. He says the political and social upheavals taking place almost daily on the continent give directors a much richer palette to work with than their European and American counterparts.

"You know from Europe the identity of the culture is very crystallized -- you've known who you are for a long time," he told CNN.

"Ours is still in the making and there are very bad parts but there are also positive possibilities which come from the idea that we are still inventing who we are."

Even so, the region's film industry still has a long way to go before it can match the scale and reach of its Western rivals.

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For example, the Mexican film industry may have grown in size in recent years and be scoring successes like "Lake Tahoe", which won a Silver Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival. Yet as Christian Valdelievre, the producer of that movie explained to CNN: "90 per cent of the tickets are sold for American movies in Mexico, so that leaves 10 per cent for everybody else, including Mexicans.

"And that's the kind of thing we need to be able to change -- that's going to take time."

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