It is January in Argentina's isolated Pampas region but El Destino, an authentic hacienda from 1890, is a hive of activity. The principal shooting location of James Ivory's The City Of Your Final Destination is 100 miles outside Buenos Aires, and while the 120-strong crew consists of people from a range of different countries, the sense of on-set cohesion and camaraderie is immediately clear.
'When you see the cast and crew eating together on the set or working in peaceful harmony you realise making movies is not only about being creative and imaginative but also about social alchemy,' says director Ivory over lunch. 'You try to bring people together and that's an instinct.'
As a project, the $10.5m City Of Your Final Destination unites a range of players. Based on the acclaimed novel by American writer Peter Cameron, the screenplay was written by Ivory's long-time collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Ashok Amritraj's Los Angeles-based Hyde Park Entertainment is handling international sales on the film.
The cast includes Anthony Hopkins (in his fourth film with Ivory), Laura Linney, Omar Metwally, Alexandra Maria Lara, Hiroyuki Sanada, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kate Burton and Argentinian actresses Norma Aleandro and Norma Argentina. Following the death of Ismail Merchant in 2005, the film is produced by longtime Merchant Ivory Productions (MIP) associates Richard Hawley and Paul Bradley.
City tells the story of 28-year-old Iranian-born Kansas University doctoral student Omar Razaghi (Metwally), who has won a grant to write a biography of Latin American writer Jules Gund. To gain authorisation for the book, Omar must win over three people who were close to the author and who are now the executors of his estate: his brother (Hopkins), his widow (Linney), and his younger mistress (Gainsbourg).
Over the years, Merchant Ivory productions have shot all over the world - from China to France, from India to Italy - but City is the first film to shoot in Latin America. 'We have extensive background shooting all over the world,' says producer Bradley. 'And this is without a doubt one of the more pleasant experiences, especially after the problems we faced filming The White Countess in China.'
The source novel may be set in Uruguay, but the film-makers decided it would be easier and cheaper to shoot in Argentina, where they filmed for nine weeks and spent $3.5m. (The production also shot in New York and Colorado).
'As we were in the middle of nowhere, there were no hotels or restaurants available in the whole area,' says Bradley. To accommodate the cast and crew, line producer Diana Frey of Buenos Aires-based Delta Producciones rented another 15 ranches and an entire navy base.
With Argentina's costs far below those of Europe or the US, the number of foreign productions coming into the territory is rising and local line producers and service providers have a real opportunity.
'The lighting and camera equipment provided by local company Camaras & Luces was top-level,' says Spanish DoP Javier Aguirresarobe, whose credits include Alejandro Amenabar's The Others and The Sea Inside and Milos Forman's Goya's Ghosts. But he does not think Argentina can handle much more than three productions of a significant scale at the same time.
Ivory also praises the professionalism of the Argentinian crew. 'The local crew not only had good skills in technical issues but also an artistic-aesthetic vision. It reminded me of the French people we hired for (1995's) Jefferson In Paris because of their cinephile sensibility.'
'In the last few years we have improved our ability to meet high-standard quality requirements from companies like MIP,' says line producer Frey, whose Delta provided production services for three other European films last year: The Golden Door, from Italian director Emanuele Crialese, Marco Risi's The Hand Of God and the Spanish-French co-production La Bella Otero.
The City Of Your Final Destination is currently in post, and both Bradley and Ivory say they expect the film to be ready for Venice and Toronto.