Argentina's leading film event, the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, kicked off on March 7 despite a 75% cut in its funding.

Due to the plummeting peso and Argentina's other economic woes, the national film institute, INCAA, slashed the festival budget from $2m to less than $500,000. However, festival director Claudio Espana has taken this blow in his stride and the festival's line-up of 170 films from more than 40 countries has attracted praise from the national press.

The only thing to rain on his parade, apart from the real rain, has been the absence of Hollywood stars, reflecting both the low profile of the festival in the industry and the relative unimportance of the Argentinian market for the majors at a time when the currency has halved in value against the US dollar.

At the midway stage of the festival, Juan Antonio De La Riva's The Hawk Of The Mountains (El Gavilan De La Sierra) stood out in the competition section, playing to packed houses. The modern-day western traces the attempt by a troubadour to sum up his outlaw brother's life in a 'corridor' - a Mexican ballad.

Thanks to the strength of its film schools, Argentina has enjoyed an explosion of new talent in recent years, with some 40 films going into production last year compared with the handful of films produced in most other Latin American countries. The most hotly-anticipated local films in the festival include Black Box (Caja Negra), by Luis Ortega, the son of a famous local singer who later became a politician with links with the right-wing Peronistas. Also attracting interest is Diego Gachassin's Vladimir In Buenos Aires (Vladimir En Buenos Aires), a film about the recent influx of Russian immigrants into Argentina and their problems assimilating into a very different culture.

By the festival's closure on March 17 some 100 foreign guests will have accompanied their films to the high society beach resort known as the 'Atlantic Pearl', located 400km south of capital Buenos Aires. Directors expected to attend include Bertrand Tavernier (Laissez Passer), Claude Lanzmann (Sobibor) and Kim Ki-Duk (Address Unknown). Producers scheduled to hit town include Kim Aubry (Apocalypse Now) and Yves Pasquier (Taking Sides). Roger Corman and Claire Bloom are to receive life-time achievement awards and Kenneth Anger is presenting a selection of his films.

Jerzy Kawalerowicz, director of the recent Polish blockbuster Quo Vadis, cancelled his visit at the last minute, citing ill health.

The festival, which opened with Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, has seven sections including the official competition, an international panorama of cutting-edge cinema and sidebars such as Latin America and Women & Films