Abstracted from Screen International

The Argentinian financial crisis has begun to take a severe toll on the local film industry. The release of blockbusters like The Lord Of The Rings has been delayed and the burgeoning local production sector is threatened with financial meltdown.

Riots, five presidents in two weeks and a devalued currency have wrought chaos and uncertainty in what was once the most developed country in South America.

The financial crisis comes just as Argentinian cinema had begun to experience a resurgence - with films like Nueve Reinas, La Cienaga, El Hijo De La Novia and Vagon Fumador gaining critical acclaim and making inroads internationally.

The Fellowship Of The Ring was slated to debut on Jan 1 but will now open at the end of this month with the scheduled 120 prints, according to Warner Bros. "We wanted to wait and see what would happen before releasing it," says Sam Real, manager, sales and distribution, Warner Bros International Theatrical Distribution.

Observers think the film will be severely affected by the crisis. Jorge Estrada, producer of Argentina's foreign Oscar entry El Hijo De La Novia believes The Fellowship Of The Ring will gross, in dollar terms, less than half of what it would normally do because of devaluation.

Both major and independent distributors have seen their release plans affected. UIP will release Vanilla Sky on Feb 24 as scheduled but with 70 prints instead of the original 90.

Independents such as Pascual Condito's Primer Plano or Bernardo Zupnik's Distribution Company - already reluctant to go against the Rings juggernaut - are now even more insecure about their release plans because of the crisis.

In the end, some have seized the opportunity to release their product during the Rings delay, but with devaluation and accounts virtually frozen by the country's Central Bank, distributors are hard pressed to carry the rising costs of prints and p&a.

Admissions have fallen 9% year on year - standing at 30 million for 2001 compared to 33 million for 2000. Box office takings, however, have been hardest hit by the financial crisis. "Box office revenues are off more than 50% in real dollars" says Jorge Estrada.

Festivals, in particular, have lapped up the new generation of Argentinian film-makers. Rotterdam Festival director Simon Field comments: "Argentina has had another powerful year. Last year we had Crane World (Mondo Grua), this time La Libertad and La Cienaga. But with the current [economic and political crisis] I wonder how they will survive'"

Many film-makers, like Crane World director Pablo Trapero, were hit by the devaluation of the peso. Trapero was about to start shooting his second film El Bonaerense when the crisis struck and he had to scramble between production meetings and bank negotiations to keep his project afloat. Deciding it would be worse to stop the production, he has continued shooting the police drama.

The threat to the film sector is exacerbated by goings on at the state-supported national film institute Incaa. The body is currently leaderless after director Jose Miguel Onaindia resigned when president Fernando de la Rua was ousted; deputy director Roberto Miller died from cancer early this month.

With Incaa's total budget of nearly $40m under review by the local congress, more productions are facing delays in receiving their subsidies.

According to Rodolfo Hermida, head of promotion and now the most senior executive at Incaa, some productions have been delayed. However, at least seven Incaa-backed features are currently shooting. Hermida estimates around 30 films are slated to shoot while some 38 have been completed.

Top local film lawyer Julio Raffo, who deals with many film-makers in Argentina, notes that while some projects, such as producer Lita Stantic's Un Oso Rojo and Patagonik/ Telefe co-production La Dupla are pushing ahead, the majority have been suspended.