A contradictory trend is at work in Spain: the country ismaking increasingly more low-budget films, yet production cranks up this monthon two of its costliest features ever, Viggo Mortensen-starrer Alatristeand Vicente Aranda's The White Knight.

Average feature film budgets decreased in Spain last yearand almost two-thirds of films were budgeted at less than Euros 2m; more than athird at less than Euros 1m. Spanish producers are also opting for moredocumentaries, which cost an average of just under Euros 500,000 to make: ahigh 26 documentaries were produced in 2004, more than a fifth the globaloutput, according to the Spanish Film Academy's annual survey of the sector.

Yet at the same time, a selection of unusually big-budgetfilms are getting the green light, including Spain's costliest feature ever:Agustin Diaz Yanes' $28m Alatriste starring Viggo Mortensen as the 17thcentury soldier-turned-mercenary of bestselling novelist Arturo Perez Reverte'sinvention. What makes Alatriste - a Telecinco/Estudios Picasso, OrigenPC and Universal Studios co-production that begins shooting in Spain March 7 -stand out all the more is that it will be shot in Spanish.

"It is risky to invest so heavily in a Spanish-languageproduction," admitted Telecinco's head of Spanish and European films AlvaroAugustin, "but we never considered shooting it in another language." Instead,the producers spent the money on an A-list cast and technical crew sure toattract distributors and audiences around the world. The formula is alreadyworking: TF1 picked up international rights in Berlin while Fox has takenSpanish and Latin American theatrical and DVD/video rights.

Other Spanish companies with big-budget films in thepipeline have pulled financing from foreign partners and opted to shoot in the'international language.' Director Vicente Aranda begins filming his $18mEnglish-language medieval romantic adventure The White Knight on March28. Starring Leonor Watling and Victoria Abril, and based on a 15th centuryknight's tale, White Knight is backed by Spain's DeA Planeta andCarolina Films and the UK's Future Films. Arclight Films has internationalrights.

Morena Films starts production this week on itslong-gestating $10.6m Cargo, a co-production with the UK's Slate Filmsand other European backers sold internationally by Wild Bunch. The ship-boundthriller written by Paul Laverty, directed by Clive Gordon and starring DanielBruehl, Peter Mullan and Luis Tosar will shoot in Barcelona and Accra, Ghana.

Meanwhile Lolafilms is putting the final touches on its$10.6m Dominican Republic-set The Feast Of The Goat, a co-productionwith Future Films starring Tomas Milian and Isabella Rossellini.

Filmax chief Julio Fernandez says budgets on hisinternationally-targeted English-language genre films range between $8m-$15m"depending on casting." Projects in the pipeline include JaumeBalaguero's Fragile starring Calista Flockhart, in post; Daniel Monzon'sthriller The Kovak Box, in pre-production; and Alejandro Toledo'smythical period epic Holy Shroud: The Crusader, in development.

Fernandez says he is now looking to Asia and MediterraneanAfrica for partners on his next slate for genre label Fantastic Factory.

For full Spanish production listings, click here