Catalans Help Pay for Woody Allen 'Love Letter'

By Pascale Harter
Sunday, July 29, 2007; 9:48 PM

BARCELONA, July 30 (Reuters) - The people of Catalonia are lining the Ramblas thoroughfare in capital Barcelona to catch a glimpse of a blonde starlet and a man in a green fishing hat shouting 'action!'

Director Woody Allen has promised his new movie -- starring current muse Scarlett Johansson -- will be a "love letter to Barcelona, and from Barcelona to the world" in the same way '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.

Barcelona's city hall is providing 1 million euros ($1.37 million) and the Catalan Regional Government half a million -- a commercial investment the public widely misconstrue as a subsidy and which some argue should be going to home-grown works.

"He (Allen) must think we're quite a stupid society," said an editorial in 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 '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," Alberto Fernandez Diaz, leader of the opposition right-wing Partido Popular, told Reuters.

For authors and script writers who are excluded from local arts subsidies because they write in Spanish, such an investment in a film in English is particularly hard to swallow.

"There are talented directors here who can't get their films made," said one local director who did not want to be named for fear of making enemies in the industry. "Along comes Woody Allen with all his money and success and they help him? I could make five films with his budget."


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."

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