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Three films by Mexican directors have all been nominated for Oscars this year. There is "Babel" by Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu, "Pan's Labyrinth" by Guillermo del Toro and "Children of Men" by Alfonso CuarÃ³n. The nominations are creating a buzz about Mexican filmmaking, but what do they mean for filmmakers in Mexico?
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Mexico City.
LOURDES GARCIA: When Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, it was no surprise that he gave a nod to his home country.
ALEJANDRO GONZ: It's a very meaningful award not only for us, but for the Mexican film industry, and I salute my friends Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso CuarÃ³n.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
GARCIA: The news only got better for Mexicans with the Oscar nominations. They were announced by none other Mexican native Salma Hayek.
SALMA HAYEK: And finally, I am pleased to announce that the films nominated for best feature of 2006 are "Babel," Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu.
GARCIA: This is the year, it seems, of the Mexican filmmaker.
Mr. LEONARDO GARCIA TSAO (Cineteca Nacional) Regardless of what they think of the Oscars, it's as publicity, as promotion, it's invaluable. And this year, we have a total of 16 nominations. We have 10 Mexican citizens, actually, going up for an award. So that's really amazing, I mean, it's historical.
GARCIA: Leonardo Garcia Tsao is the head of the Mexican government's film archive, Cineteca. Not only were the nominations splashed across the front page of every single major Mexican newspaper, he says the films' successes have highlighted the work of so many talented people here.
GARCIA TSAO: Now the whole world is aware of these three filmmakers and also, you know, of the cinematographers - a lot of technicians. And even an actress like Llena Barrasa(ph) suddenly are in the forefront.
GARCIA: But behind the buzz is an industry that everyone admits is struggling to compete with its Hollywood neighbor. Critics say the nominations show how Mexico has had to export some of its best talent.
Going to the premiere of a Latin American film in Mexico is a pretty humble experience. When a Hollywood blockbuster opens, it's often a madhouse. Today, the film "Ellipsis" is being screened and it's a tiny affair. Mexican actress AngÃ©lica AragÃ³n, who acts in this film, says that filmmaking here has been struggling.
ANG: I think that there has always been enormous talent in this country. And I think that the trouble with filmmaking in this country is that it doesn't have an outlet.
GARCIA: AragÃ³n says that the three Mexican directed films that have created such an international sensation are all made with foreign financing. Bertha Navarro should know. She was the producer of "Pan's Labyrinth" by Guillermo del Toro, which is nominated for a best foreign film Oscar.
BERTHA NAVARRO: It's very complicated. Since the Mexican government signed NAFTA in '93, we went from 120 films or 110 a year to seven. Okay? It opened without any kind of protection. So it's been really tough.
GARCIA: The effect is still taking its toll. Victor Ugalde is the head of the Mexican film fund Fidecine, which gives money for movies to be made here. He says it has been a slow recovery.
VICTOR UGALDE: (Through Translator) We had labs, equipment for rent, post-production services - we had everything. With NAFTA, we were reduced to being simply consumers of American products and ideas.
GARCIA: In 2002, Mexico produced 14 films. In 2006, that number rose to about 60. But the films all have small budgets here. "Babel," not to mention, "Children of Men," could not have been made in Mexico right now.
Ugalde says another problem is fighting for space in the cinemas here. In Mexico, there are three major chains. Ugalde says that they pulled Mexican films after a very short run to make way for American blockbusters because they all have deals with the U.S. distributors.
Still, there is good news on the horizon. The Mexican congress recently approved a bill that would allow for tax breaks for companies that invest in Mexican cinema. The goal is to return production to what it was before NAFTA, about a hundred films a year.
UGALDE: (Through Translator) Now that there is a possibility to film in Mexico, we are seeing the return of those who left the country in the '90s. There are 300 or 400 Mexicans filmmakers in the U.S. and maybe 100 in Europe. And I say this as a joke, but it's true - the financial support the Mexican government is giving now and may give in the future will allow us repatriate our talent.
GARCIA: And says producer Berth Navarro, the success of IÃ±Ã¡rritu, CuarÃ³n and del Toro will not be squandered abroad.
NAVARRO: And they're very connected to Mexico. They help first time directors. They want to always be linked and help others.
GARCIA: So that perhaps the next generation wouldn't have to look for its successes outside of Mexico.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.
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