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Argentina: haven for independent films

Argentina's talented directors have the freedom to develop their own style rather than worrying about commercial success.

"The wound is so deep and affects so many generations still that, in many ways, it's an open wound," said director Santiago Loza. "Even if you decide to do a film that has nothing to do with the dictatorship, that's actually a reaction. You're denying something."

Loza and his co-director, Ivan Fund, shared the award for Best Director in the Argentine competition for "Los Labios" ("The Lips"). Their film paints a portrait of a rural impoverished town through the journey of three public health care workers.

"Los Labios" isn't overtly political, but the film does cast the rural government and its attempts at assistance in a futile, often comically tragic, light. Ironically, Fund won a small seed grant from the city's government to make the film.

Government support for the film industry, both big and small, has buoyed Argentina’s cinema success. Much of the funding for those subsidies come from taxes on commercial television producers and foreign-owned cineplexes.

"The majority of Argentine film could not exist without support of the state," said Fillipini. "All of my films, at least in part have had state subsidies."

France and Italy, where cinema is a source of national pride, have similar systems to support independent film. In 2003, Colombia adopted a model similar to Argentina’s to jump start its domestic film industry.

While many say small countries need state support for independent film to survive in the shadow of Hollywood and Bollywood, most directors say Argentina's state-subsidized film industry is by no means perfect.

"You can have more films with artistic risk, but on the other hand, it's a problem when people make films just to get money from the state and they don't care if the film is good," said Juan Villega, director, producer and president of one of Argentina's four filmmakers' associations. He says many filmmakers regard the process as bureaucratic and politically biased so they opt to finance their films on their own.

Villega said his latest film didn't receive any subsidies. "But I can do it because I'm working on another film at the same time that is supported by state."

The government's financial support of the film industry, while imperfect, has in effect created a cinematic ecosystem. Its what's driving the film schools, the production pace, the development and the diversity that makes Argentine filmmakers successful.

"You don't need to sell a million tickets, for the movie to exist. That's the most important thing," said Fund, 25. “The film exists and everyone can go and see it."

Fund and Lazo’s film "Los Labios" will be seen by many. It was selected to screen at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival this month. It's the first Argentine film that premiered at the Buenos Aires festival to make one of the main competitions at Cannes. It’s unlikely to be the last.