Mexico's film commission has revealed that it expects up to 40 foreign films to be shot in the country during 2001 - a gigantic leap from the mere six features shot there just five years ago.

Leading the production frenzy is Miramax Films' Frida, a pet project of Mexican actress Salma Hayek, who stars as the controversial painter Frida Kahlo. Antonio Banderas is currently shooting Once Upon A Time In Mexico, the final installment of Roberto Rodriguez' El Mariachi trilogy (pictured). Banderas is also expected to reprise his role in the sequel to The Mask Of Zorro, to be shot in Mexico later this year.

Other US films slated to shoot in Mexico include Vampires: Los Muertos, starring rock star Jon Bon Jovi. A Tom Cruise production of the Stephen King short story Dolan's Cadillac is also expected to shoot south of the border.

Reduced red tape, revamped union rules and most significantly, favourable tax laws, have attracted a clutch of high profile features to shoot in Mexico. Among the most recent have been The Mexican starring Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt and Steven Soderbergh's Traffic which saw Oscars for both Benicio del Toro and Soderbergh this year.

Shooting in Mexico can slash 25% to 30% off a production budget; favourable exchange rates add to the value of location shooting, even taking into account transportation and crew expenses.

Mexico boasts two world class studios, Fox Baja where 95% of Titanic was filmed, and Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City where The Mask of Zorro was shot.