The eighth Buenos AiresInternational Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI) will kick off tonightwith plans to show 342 features and 145 shorts from 49 countries.

The city-financed BAFICI is Argentina's biggest film event in terms of numbers of screenings andcinema-goers (last year's attendance was 184,500), besting the nationallyfinanced Mar del Plata Festival, which runs in March.

An impressive list of 23 localfeatures will have their premiere during the 13-day festival. Sofacama (Sofabed),the long-awaited new work by Ulises Rosell starring Cecilia Roth, has been selected as theopening film.

The eighth BAFICI will hostthe third edition of its Buenos Aires Lab, the Latin-American co-productionmarket for independent cinema that launched LisandroAlonso's Los Muertos,Rodrigo Moreno's El Custodioand Paz Encina's Hamaca Paraguaya.

The five-day event (April12-16), backed by European companies like Arte (France), foreign embassies andlocal foundations, will host the Produire au Sud (To Produce in the South) seminar for ten young andemerging producers and scriptwriters, a co-production forum with one-to-onemeetings between 16 Latin American filmmakers previously selected and potentialinternational financiers, and pitching sessions for cash awards.

The lab also includes a workin progress session for Argentinian films currentlyfilming or in post-production, including Carmen Guarini'sAlia,Ernesto Baca's Ganges,Andres Di Tella's Fotografias, AnaKatz's La NoviaErrante and Federico Leon's Estrellas.

Asked about the four-week gapbetween Mar del Plata's Mercosur Film Market and Buenos Aires' own lab, BAFICI's director FernandoMartin Pena replied: "Mar del Plata is our equivalent of Cannes,and is therefore interested in bigger, glossier films. Their focus is differentthan ours. It is not a bad idea to have two festivals and markets withdifferent profiles. It only makes our cinema experience much richer and fuller,and presents two opportunities for local filmmakers to find foreign financing,and gives local distributors another chance to pick up interesting new films."

"BAFICI is verycomparable to the edgy intake at Rotterdam, Vienna, Locarno or Thessaloniki, with a similar accent on fresh talent and the avant-garde,"says Pena, in his second year as festival director. "But it's also aplatform that offers Latin-American directors and producers the opportunity tolaunch their projects to the international film industry and an importantfundraising source."

This year's festival focus andretrospectives are dedicated to the works of Abbas Kiarostami, Roberto Rossellini, Jan Svankmajer,Sharunas Bartas,Jean-Claude Biette, Kevin Brownlow,Bill Douglas, Paul Driessen, Jon Jost,Jonas Mekas, PerePortabella, Barry Purves, and Peter Watkins, as wellas a brief history of British, American, and Latin-American underground cinemas.