Mar del Plata festival bows sans U.S. films

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BUENOS AIRES -- The 22nd edition of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, the most important in Argentina and arguably all of South America, opened Thursday on Argentina's Atlantic coast.

The 10-day gathering will screen more than 300 titles from 56 countries at cinemas around the beachside resort town, with a particular focus on Latin American films.

The first-ever Ernesto "Che" Guevara Award will be given to a Latin American film that carries on the spirit of the late Argentinean revolutionary.

"We are focusing on the idealism of Che Guevara, a man who was willing to die for his ideals. What we hope to find is a parallel with young Latin American filmmakers, who need a great deal of idealism just to make a film here," festival president Miguel Pereira said.

Honorary Astor awards (named after another Argentinean legend, tango innovator Astor Piazzolla) will go to Italian director Mario Monicelli and Argentinean composer Gustavo Santaolalla, fresh off his best score Oscar for "Babel."

Hollywood is notably absent from this year's festival. In recent years, U.S. films have competed and such stars as Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Juliette Binoche, Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren have walked the red carpet.

"There was no decision at all to exclude films from the U.S. On the contrary, you can't think of cinema without the U.S., but unfortunately we couldn't bring the films or guests this year," Pereira said.

The U.S. won't be entirely left out, though. Director Charles Burnett ("Killer of Sheep," "To Sleep with Anger") is the jury president, and his films will be screened as part of a retrospective on black cinema.

The festival also will highlight animation and music in film, with an array of concerts planned throughout the week.
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