Jul 31st, 2007

As actors and film crews working for Woody Allen clog up the already bustling streets of Barcelona this summer, the residents of this eastern Spanish city have begun to ask why their city hall is helping fund the director’s next film.

With a section of the city’s famously busy Las Ramblas boulevard among the streets to have been blocked off for Allen and stars such as Scarlett Johansson and Penélope Cruz, the grumbling has turned into a political row.

Some 10% of the budget for the film, known as The Barcelona Project and featuring Spanish actor Javier Bardem, comes from city and Catalan regional taxpayers.

Barcelona city hall has set aside almost €1m (£680,000) to help fund the film, as well as providing police escorts for Johansson and others. A further €500,000 comes from the regional government of Catalonia.

“It’s a huge advertisement for the city that will be seen all over the world,” says the socialist mayor, Jordi Hereu.

But the people of Barcelona are worried that Allen has been showered with public cash and told he can do whatever he likes, including cutting traffic in parts of the city. “He must think we’re pretty stupid,” said Catalonia’s El Periodico newspaper.

Opposition politicians have accused the city’s socialist administration of being so obsessed with the New York director that its members had queued to get their photograph taken with him.

“They spend money on this film, but seem to find it difficult to give money to Spanish or Catalan films,” said Alberto Fernández of the opposition People’s party.

The film’s Spanish producers say it has received the same public grants as Spanish films. But the city’s contribution has taken the form of direct investment from the city hall, which it says it hopes to recoup from the film’s profits.

One extra cost that was certainly not in the budget, however, is for the repairs to the motorbike of one of Johansson’s police outriders, who crashed into a taxi.

Allen rarely shoots films outside the United States and his home city of New York. His 2005 film Match Point was shot in Britain.

Allen, who has not given away the plot, says the film will reflect his passion for the city. It is a “love letter to Barcelona, and from Barcelona to the world”, he says.

There is no guarantee, however, that foreign locations make for successful Allen films. While Match Point was hailed by critics and won an Oscar nomination, the follow-up called Scoop, filmed in London, was widely deemed a flop. A third London film, Cassandra’s Dream, will be released this year .

The 71-year-old film-maker has won three Oscars, two of them for the original screenplay and direction of his 1977 classic Annie Hall. The third was for the screenplay of Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986.

The Barcelona film is reportedly about two American tourists who become involved with a Spanish painter played by Bardem and a jealous ex-girlfriend played by Cruz. The other tourist, alongside Johansson, is reported to be Rebecca Hall.

Allen’s Spanish producers are reported to have persuaded him to change the Bardem character from that of a matador, partly because Barcelona is not famed for its enjoyment of bullfighting.

It was recently reported that the film is to be titled Midnight in Barcelona, though this has not been confirmed. Filming is also taking place in the northern Spanish region of Asturias.

Source: The Guardian

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