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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 13:24 GMT
Venezuelan cinema, Chavez style
By James Ingham
BBC News, Caracas

A scene from Miranda Returns
The first feature length film is about a Venezuelan revolutionary

Gabriela Medina-Herrera is a young film producer who clearly loves her job.

"It's amazing that something so beautiful is happening here," she says.

Here is the Villa del Cine, or Cinema City, a state-of-the-art production house that is changing the face of Venezuelan cinema and where Gabriela and hundreds of others are currently employed.

President Hugo Chavez wants to break what he calls "the dictatorship of Hollywood", using this new film factory to make movies that better reflect the values and beliefs he is promoting through his socialist revolution.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first feature length film to hit the screens focuses on one of his favourite revolutionaries.

Miranda Returns, which had its premiere on 11 October, tells the story of Francisco de Miranda, a soldier who led three revolutions and played a key part in events leading to Venezuela's declaration of independence from Spain in 1811.

This swashbuckling tale glorifies his struggle, drawing attention to Miranda's dream of a united South America.

It is appropriate material for Cinema City's big screen debut.

"This man's story is not known as it should be," says executive producer Thamara Bozo. "He was the precursor to our independence. We're trying to show what a fighter he was."

Hollywood recruit

Those behind Venezuela's political revolution are keen to create a greater consciousness of the country's history and culture, something they believe has been ignored as a result of the dominance of the US.

Danny Glover - file photo
US actor Danny Glover is planning a film with Venezuelan backing
Cinema City's productions will all reflect the values of the changes under President Chavez.

One of its future flagship films is being made by a big Hollywood name.

Danny Glover, best known for his role as a cop in the Lethal Weapon series, has made it clear he supports Mr Chavez.

The feeling is mutual. The president has pledged $18m (£8.7m) to a film Glover plans to make about the Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture.

Final discussions are still underway, but the financial backing guarantees it will all be filmed in Venezuela, with great benefits promised.

"Not only does the telling of this inspirational story redress a major gap in our collective histories, but the process of making the film will do the same," the actor-cum-producer said recently.

"The positive impact will be felt in diverse communities from where cast and crew will be hired and trained."

But are all these revolutionary big screen antics just a form of propaganda?

Sceptics

Some independent film-makers would argue so.

We are looking to make good films, no matter what the script
Marco Mondarain
Executive director, Cinema City

A number of well-known figures in Venezuelan cinema expressed their anger at the president's lavish spending on a project they do not think is appropriate.

"More money is going to one film then we've had for all our films for years," says director Alfredo Anzola. "I don't think anyone was brave enough to tell the president it was a bad idea."

This veteran film-maker, a member of Venezuela's Association of Cinema Producers, is supportive of some of the government's ideas, but he is sceptical about Cinema City's role.

"I feel sure they want to make good films. What I don't like is that they'll only be the films they want to make. We fought for years to make films that were decided by the film community."

Film-makers seem torn between working for the state with its huge resources and opportunities, and making a stand against what they see as the erosion of independent art.

The government does not take criticism well and it has cut its links with a number of the artistic organisations that represent industry insiders.

Venezuela's Villa del Cine
Cinema City is a state-of-the art production house

Back at Cinema City though, these concerns do not seem to be shared by staff.

"There are so many people getting an opportunity to work in the industry who couldn't before," says Gabriela Medina-Herrera.

"I left Venezuela because I didn't think I could do anything in culture and art. Now I find I'm an important part. Everyone is."

Buzz

Her bosses clearly know their objectives, but they deny there is any political pressure to make a certain type of film.

"We are looking to make good films, no matter what the script. We really want writers and directors to come to us with their ideas. If they're good, we'll support them" says executive director Marco Mondarain.

Poster for Miranda Returns which had its premiere on 11 October
Miranda Returns - the start of a new era of Venezuelan cinema?
Other productions currently under way include a story of a young violinist torn between pursuing her talent and leaving her poor but loving family; a tongue-in-cheek comedy about a group of people trying to bring down a government; and a political thriller based on the life of anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles who is accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner in which 73 people died.

Walking around the studios, workshops, edit suites and offices on the Cinema City complex, it is clear there is a real buzz and a passion for what is being achieved.

Like much of what happens in Venezuela, it is a controversial project.

But, if the foundation's bosses are to be believed, then it will simply be good films that come to life, whatever the message.

Ultimately that has got to be good for Venezuelan cinema.

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