Sponsors rev up for Argentine feature


BUENOS AIRES -- In a first for cinema in Argentina, an automotive behemoth and an advertising giant are teaming to make a feature film.

The Argentine arms of General Motors and McCann Erickson are joining local production firm Pampa Films to make "La Leyenda" (The Legend), a film set in Argentina's auto racing circuit and featuring a fictional Chevrolet-sponsored racing team.

Producers say the deal represents a perfect convergence of business, advertising and entertainment and that it may signal the future of filmmaking in Argentina and around the globe.

"The production model for this film is totally innovative for Argentine cinema and elsewhere," Juan Pablo Buscarini of Pampa Films said.

Advertising executives from Mc-Cann Erickson Argentina created and developed the script and presented it to Chevrolet as a vehicle to further brand recognition within Argentina's competitive auto racing world. Chevy is currently the defending two-time champion in the TC2000 division, which executives say makes the film's premise more a reflection of reality than a publicity ploy.

"We consider this an important step in continuing to move forward with this sport that Argentines are so passionate about," said Pablo Ramos, marketing director of General Motors Argentina.

Some critics here have suggested that the film, with planned high-speed sequences and high-tech stunts, may prove to be nothing more than a flashy, 90-minute commercial for Chevy. It's a charge that McCann Erickson Argentina's Chavo D'Emilio, who conceived the project and co-wrote the screenplay, dismisses.

"I think there are two ways of looking at this relationship: One, from an artistic standpoint, which is cinema. Two, from the publicity standpoint, which is more bottom-line focused. And I think these two things can co-exist within the framework of a movie," D'Emilio said.

While product placement is a tried-and-true cinema tradition, having a car company and advertising firm so closely tied to a feature-length production is almost entirely new.

In 2001, BMW and Fallon Worldwide collaborated on the enormously successful series "The Hire," which featured Clive Owen in eight multimillion-dollar shorts directed by such industry icons as Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie and John Frankenheimer, which were released exclusively online. This groundbreaking concept of "advertainment" has since been duplicated, but never in Latin America.

At $3 million, "La Leyenda's" budget is more than twice that of most Argentine films, and producers admit that the deep pockets of General Motors is what is making the production possible.

"Honestly, though, the investment that GM has made to be a part of this film is not much more than what they would spend on a television commercial," D'Emilio said.

Preproduction already is under way and principal photography will begin later this month in locations throughout Argentina, including Cordoba, Salta and Buenos Aires. Argentine actors Pablo Rago and Benjamin Rojas will play the two young competition drivers who compete for the affection of Leonora Balcarce's auto engineer. Sebastian Pivotto will direct.

No distribution deal has been sealed for Argentina or overseas yet, but producers are confident they will find both. Previous Pampa Films efforts, like the 2007 Ricardo Darin-helmed "La Senal," have been distributed by Disney's Buena Vista International.