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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 February 2007, 13:07 GMT
Mexican wave rides high in the film world
As Oscars night approaches, the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Mexico looks at the country's booming film industry which is tipped for 16 awards.

The term "new wave" is often over used in the film industry.
Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt
Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt star in the Oscar-nominated Babel

We have had a French new wave, an Italian new wave and a Russian new wave in recent decades. Although there are exceptions, the waves have often ebbed and flowed.

Sometimes, they have even been swept out on the tide altogether, only to be left bobbing around in an homogenous sea of other country's indistinct output.

Now it is the turn of Mexico. But this is a "Mexican wave" that does not look like it will fizzle out after a few circuits of the stadium.

And the proof? Just look at the Academy Awards taking place this Sunday.

Winning aura

There are a total of 16 nominations for Mexican projects - the same number British films have received. And both, second only to the Americans.

This year, three Mexican films stand out. Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth and Babel, by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Babel, in particular, has a winning aura surrounding it. The ensemble production, about three inter-linked stories in four different countries, has multiple nominations, including those for its actors, director and in the best picture category.

Observers with longer memories might recall a similar buzz back in 2003
These are not marginal awards. Mexican-originated films have gone mainstream.

"We are thrilled," says Mario Aguinaga of the world-renowned Churubusco film studios in Mexico City. "This is a very special year".

And, he does not think it is a one-off year.

"We have been producing world-class films for many years now. This is a real film industry with abundantly talented people," Mr Aguinaga says.

He points to people like director Alfonso Cuaron, actor Gael Garcia Bernal and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, just three from a talent pool that has an extraordinarily deep, deep end.

Observers with longer memories might recall a similar buzz back in 2003. Then, the racy coming-of-age movie Y Tu Mama Tambien was Oscar nominated after becoming a surprise box office hit. It did not win, and it left some people in Mexico with a sense of disappointment.

Scene from Y Tu Mama Tambien
Y Tu Mama Tambien lost out in the Oscars in 2003
But Mexico and its films did not go away. And this year they are back in force.

It is now a business that makes 60 pictures a year and employs about 20,000 people.

It is still the case that many American studios view Mexico as a cheaper-than-California alternative. Costs are 20% less than in the US. That has meant films like Titanic, Zorro and The Fugitive have been made here, often without lead Mexican actors or key crew members.

It is also a fact that many Mexican movies filmed in Mexico have small budgets and that the big ones, which end up being nominated for awards, are often made elsewhere.

"But, in a sense, none of that matters," says Angel Flores Marini, a film producer for 40 years.

Tax breaks

"What matters, is that wherever the film is shot, it has a made-in-Mexico authenticity to it," he says.

"Right now, Mexican realism is what audiences want," says Mr Flores Marini.

"And Mexican directors, actors and screen writers are giving it to them with films like Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros."

Filmmakers here, as in other countries, continue to complain that the industry does not get enough tax breaks, though the Mexican Congress did recently approve a bill that would allow such help.

It is a positive foundation for future output.

Mexico usually gets bad press for its people heading north of the border. This Sunday, there are likely to be few complaints when its cinematic talent travels to Hollywood.

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