Venezuelan film production is at a virtual standstill, victim of a new government in transition. This year, state-backed film body CNAC has just enough subsidy money to support one film while its selection committee has yet to convene.

In 1999, the subsidy fund of $112,000 (165 million Bolivares) was parcelled out among four films. According to CNAC spokesperson Patsy Montiel, the subsidy fund may rise this year but is supposed to encompass not just full-length features but shorts and script development as well.

"We hope that the situation will return to normal next year as the political situation continues to stabilise," Montiel said.

At least 15 completed films are waiting to get released. Some films are stuck in post-production for lack of funds, while others have been shunted aside by the country's two main distributors, Cines Unidos and Blanco y Travieso, for higher yielding US blockbusters.

A smaller distributor, Septimo Films, mainly favours foreign arthouse releases. "The distributors tend to offer limited releases for local films. I suspect that the upcoming releases will have a maximum of eight to 10 prints, some with only three or four," said Alejandro Saderman, director of Big Thieves, Little Thieves (Cien Anos De Perdon).

Saderman's acclaimed heist-gone-wrong film has just been acquired by HBO Latino, the new Spanish-language multiplex channel that premium movie channel Home Box Office (HBO) plans to launch in the US on September 18, 2000. Its subtitled version will air on HBO sister channel, Cinemax. The film was sold by Madrid-based sales agent Kevin Williams Associates.

Meanwhile, the few films that have managed to hit the festival circuits are reaping honours. The latest is Gustavo Balza's The Valley (El Valle) which was shot between 1997 and 1998 and won best picture at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival last July, best screenplay from French film fund Fondsud and a best director mention at the Miami Hispanic Film Festival last June. At Midnight And A Half (A La Media Noche Y Media) by Mariano Rondon and Marite Ugas, took home best film at the Uruguayan film festival and a special mention at the Providence Rhode Island festival this year.

Leonardo Henriquez' Bleeder (Sangrador), a black-and-white Macbeth-inspired drama set in the Andes, has entered Venice sidebar, New Territories, the first time ever for a Venezuelan film to participate in the A-list festival.

Diego Risquez' historical epic Manuela Saenz and The Valley entered the Montreal International Film Festival's Latin American Films sidebar and will vie for the Best Latin American film prize. Montreal runs from August 25 to September 4.

So far, two films have been released this year and another three are expected. In 2001, three films are slated for release, one of them a children's film, The Magic Adventure Of Oscar (La Magica Aventura De Oscar) directed by Diana Sanchez. "We hope that this succeeds at the box office and that it spurs more children and youth-oriented films," said Montiel who recalls that they were quite popular in the 1980s.