Latin American film fans ask, Where are our movies?

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SAO PAULO, Nov 14 (Reuters) Latin American cinema may be enjoying a Golden Age, but the movies must sometimes travel the world before they can get a showing on their home turf.

The governments of Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil and others are handing out money to encourage local productions, and the results are gaining wide acclaim, but they are struggling in a continent saturated with Hollywood blockbusters.

Films must first reach international festivals like Cannes or Venice to have a chance of getting a distributor and running around the world, before maybe coming home to Latin America.

''Even being so close, it is very difficult to watch Latin American movies in Latin American cinemas,'' said Daniel Andrade, who was in Sao Paulo for a film festival October 19 to November 8, where he was showing his new movie ''Esas no Son Penas'' (Anytime Soon).

He said ''Cidade de Deus'' (City of God) and ''Central do rasil'' (Central Station) both Oscar-nominated Brazilian movies of recent years, got to his native Ecuador only through their North American distributors. ''Carandiru'', a top Brazilian movie of 2003, was never shown in Ecuadorean theaters.

Adhemar Oliveira, an independent distributor who runs theaters in Sao Paulo, said he must go to Europe to get Latin American movies to show in Brazil, such as the acclaimed Chilean movie ''Machuca.'' ''It's the same price to bring a movie from Asia, Europe, USA or Latin America,'' Oliveira said.

Brazil is now making so many movies -- 70 per year, up from 30 in the 1990s -- that its 2,000 movie theaters hardly have room for all of them, let alone movies from the rest of Latin America.

A deal with Cuba to exchange a few movies was put aside. ''How do you find space in a market inundated by American blockbusters for all the Brazilian productions plus five Cuban titles?'' said cinema researcher Maria do Rosario Caetano.

Piracy has provided a solution, at least in some countries, said Bolivian filmmaker Marcos Loayza.

''People who like movies in Bolivia have two options. Going abroad or buying pirate DVDs'', said Loayza, who was showing his documentary ''El Estado de las Cosas'' (The State of Things) at the Sao Paulo festival.

''You can find everything in DVD copies -- Latin American movies, Greek movies, Iranian movies,'' he said. Bolivia has only 50 movie theaters, showing mostly Hollywood movies dubbed into Spanish.

Piracy was the route to box office success for ''Tropa de Elite'' (Elite Squad), a controversial story about police killings in the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro and the most successful Brazilian movie this year.

After viral success as a pirate DVD, it was released in Brazil by Paramount, and has sold 2.1 million tickets compared with 6.1 million for ''Spider Man 3.'' In Venezuela, production has jumped from a half dozen movies per year to an expected 20 in 2008 thanks to help from President Hugo Chavez, said Mariana Rondon, who was presenting her second feature, ''Postales de Leningrado'' (Postcards from Leningrad).

Her first movie was not even shown in her country because no distributor was interested. ''Postcards'' has been in Venezuelan theaters only because of a new rule that gives local movies a mandatory showing, she said.

In Ecuador, the government is helping three or four movies to be released next year, almost doubling production. In Mexico, a new law will let companies invest tax money in the cinema.

''There is a small cinema revolution happening right now in Mexico, with a lot of people and companies with money to invest,'' said filmmaker Sergio Umansky, who spent seven months looking for a distributor for his movie ''Mejor es que Gabriela no se muera'' (It's Better If Gabriela Doesn't Die).

''But I hope the movies will start to be known and seen, not just the ones made by big studios.'' REUTERS SV SSC1302

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