Commentary: Chile spicing things up

Country is going all out to promote production

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Peter Orth struts across the street, holding his weapon chest-high as he fires round after round at unsuspecting women and children whose only crime is that they caught his well-trained eye.

Luckily, Orth is a location manager for commercials, his weapon of choice a camera, and the rounds he fires are meant to capture the random beauty of the hilly Chilean port city of Valparaiso, which he says is "a production designer's dream."

Hoping to spread that word, government body ProChile invited several location managers, one film commissioner and The Hollywood Reporter to tour the country from Santiago to Valparaiso to Punta Arenas, among the world's southernmost cities, as part of an educational familiarization tour -- or "fam tour," in locations parlance.

"You hear about a country like Venezuela, and you construct an idea of South America in your head," says Andres Pelegrini, an independent line producer and locations manager. "Chile is not like that."

In fact, the country in many ways is like California: breathtaking deserts, world-class vineyards, a noted surf scene and the beauty of the Andes. Santiago, its capital, is not unlike Los Angeles -- a smog-covered city in the lowlands surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks.

Chile doesn't have the Third World trappings of most other Central or South American countries, with their extremes of poverty and crime; the country is quite modern and safe as it recovers from its years under a military junta headed by Augusto Pinochet.

Like Argentina, the country mixes indigenous South American style with European influences. Santiago has coffee shops called cafe con piernas, or "coffee with legs," where customers are served by scantily clad women; acrobats and jugglers perform at intersections; and the land is ripe with local legends, ranging from ghost ships to the one about an ugly dwarf who makes women pregnant just by looking at them.

The Chilean film and TV scene is looking up. Ten years ago, the country turned out about five features a year; last year, 20 films were produced. Challenges remain, however: The crew base is not deep, and though there are several TV soundstages, there is no studio space for film.

Still, Chile is represented by two films submitted for the best foreign-language film Oscar: The country's contender is "Dawson Isla 10," which revolves around events during the Pinochet years and was shot on remote Dawson Island, and Spain's submission, "The Dancer and the Thief," a drama shot entirely in Chile.

On the TV front, the locally produced teen telenovela "Karku" is a Latin American ratings sensation for Nick Latinoamerica.

Another film, "All Inclusive," was shot in Mexico but is doing postproduction at the Santiago headquarters of Chilefilms/Cinecolor.

The country got a taste of Hollywood-style location filming when it hosted "Quantum of Solace" in the northern desert regions, and it wants more attention from Hollywood.

"Growing the film industry is an idea that requires internal promotion on top of external promotion," says Patricio Parraguez, who as head of the 3-year-old ProChile has discovered it isn't always easy selling the government on the benefits of film and television.

Officials recognize that film is a way to boost tourism. They'd like to point to a movie like 2004's "Sideways," Alexander Payne's road movie that attracted visitors to Santa Barbara wine country. "Movies are the best way for people to see us," says Ivan de la Maza, intendente of the Valparaiso region.

Chile has more than its share of photogenic locations: The Valley of the Moon could stand in for an American Western or an alien planet. Valparaiso is waiting for spies to be chased down its streets and rooftops. Santiago has quarters that could substitute for cities in Europe. The Patagonias, with their glaciers, fjords and peat bogs, are akin to the unspoiled vistas of Middle Earth.

But locations work involves more than just the locations, something Chile is learning.

"I hope my colleagues in production don't kill me, but our weakest link is our locations managers," says Ingrid Bragemann, an executive producer at Tantor Films. "They don't know the system for location management; it's more than just taking beautiful pictures."

Said Robin Citrin, who has worked with Barry Levinson and Martin Scorsese, to a group of film reps in Santiago: "I'm truly knocked out by the landscape and the diversity, but you want to make sure you can pull it off. You need to make sure that you have the airports, the restaurants, the rental cars, the production vehicles, the stage space if the weather isn't co-operating -- that you can bring people in and take care of visas and documents."

Inviting location managers from Hollywood to tour the country is sure to raise Chile's profile, but a homegrown hit that attracts international attention would help. Brazil's "City of God," shot in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, led to the global hit "Elite Squad," which encouraged Hollywood to set part of "The Incredible Hulk" in Rio.

"We need to have a 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' " says Fernando Aldea Godoy, executive director of the Valparaiso Regional Economic Development Agency. "That city paid Woody Allen to make that movie because it's better than a marketing campaign."