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Some Barcelona residents resent Allen's 'love letter'

July 31, 2007|Pascale Harter | Reuters

BARCELONA, Spain -- Director Woody Allen has promised that his new movie, starring Scarlett Johansson, will be a "love letter to Barcelona, and from Barcelona to the world" in the same way that "Manhattan" was to New York. But Barcelona's people are not so keen to be helping foot the bill for the movie, which local media have called the biggest public investment in the history of Spanish cinema.

Ten percent of the budget for "The Barcelona Project" -- Allen's working title -- is being paid by the taxpayers of the city and the region of Catalonia, about $2 million.

"He [Allen] must think we're quite a stupid society," said an editorial in the Catalan daily El Periodico. Seventy-five percent of Catalans polled by the paper thought the public investment was "excessive."

Although some officials say the investment is worthwhile to promote Barcelona to the world -- the same way "The Lord of the Rings" helped New Zealand -- the row has aggravated artistic tensions in the region where the first official language is not Spanish, but Catalan.

"The problem is ... they say there is no money for Catalan films, and they even put obstacles in the way of awarding subsidies to films made in the Spanish language," said Alberto Fernandez Diaz, leader of the opposition right-wing Partido Popular.

Barcelona's mayor, Jordi Hereu, said it would be well worth the investment: "It's a huge advertisement for the city that will be seen all over the world."

Many within Spain's film industry think the project is actually no bad thing for them either.

"The director might be American but everyone from the art director to the technicians is Spanish, so this is actually a Spanish film and will give our industry a huge boost," said Pedro Perez, president of FAPAE, the Spanish Assn. of Film Producers. And the movie also features Spain's top movie stars, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

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