Venezuela takes on Hollywood with message movies

Wed Jan 9, 2008 8:55am EST
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By John Hecht

MEXICO CITY (Hollywood Reporter) - The Venezuelan government believes it has found an answer to what President Hugo Chavez calls the "dictatorship of Hollywood."

Though U.S. movies dominate the market, state-run film studio Cinema City is ramping up production in a bid to offer an alternative to Yankee fare. Known in Spanish as La Villa del Cine, Cinema City produced feature-length films at a frenzied pace last year and is showing no signs of slowing down as it develops this year's slate of productions.

The upstart studio complex, launched in 2006, produced and financed 14 full-length pictures last year, as well as two miniseries set to air on public broadcaster TVes.

Cinema City's first picture to hit Venezuelan theaters was "Miranda Returns," which focuses on the life of Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda. It has performed strongly, with more than 150,000 tickets sold.

As evident in "Miranda" and upcoming Cinema City productions, the films revolve around historical, political and social themes close to the ideological heart of the Chavez administration.

Hardly surprising, then, that Chavez opponents and some industry figures claim the government is using it as a tool to spread propaganda at the people's expense. Chavez supporters, however, insist that Cinema City is nurturing a new wave of Venezuelan filmmakers.

"Those who suggest that Cinema City is doing (propagandistic) films are expressing political opinions that do not permit them to see that these films are allowing us to develop a (local) industry," says Cinema City director Lorena Almarza.

Venezuelan filmmaker Eduardo Arias-Nath, whose feature-film debut "Ellipsis" was distributed in Latin America by 20th Century Fox, sees things differently.   Continued...

<p>Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (R) walks next to Miranda's state governor Diosdado Cabello in front of a mural of revolutionary icon Ernesto 'Che' Guevara during his weekly broadcast 'Alo Presidente', outside Caracas January 6, 2008. The Venezuelan government believes it has found an answer to what Chavez calls the "dictatorship of Hollywood." REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout</p>