The region has again proved its film industry is thriving despite the constant shadow of economic crisis.

Brazilian director Walter Salles is among the favourites to win the Palme d'Or best film award for "The Motorcyle Diaries", a lyrical road movie that takes the viewer from Argentina to Venezuela in the footsteps of a young Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

The film stars Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who drove the crowds into a frenzy with his opening night appearance in Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education", leaving no doubt his career is about to go stellar.

Argentine director Lucrecia Martel also made a splash with "La Nina Santa", an elliptical tale set in a claustrophobic provincial hotel. While some critics hailed her as a major new talent, others walked out of the screening in disgust.

Economic crisis

Meanwhile, Brazil's culture minister, the world-famous musician Gilberto Gil, brought some tropical rhythms to the French Riviera resort to promote a festival of Brazilian cinema.

"This is a good time for us. We are showing that we can make national films of an international standard based on local subject matter"

Luiz Carlos Barreto,
Brazilian film producer

"This is a good time for us," veteran Brazilian film producer Luiz Carlos Barreto said on Saturday. "We are showing that we can make national films of an international standard based on local subject matter."

Argentina has emerged as a strong voice despite a deep economic crisis which has sapped funding for film-makers.

"This process has been very painful but it has also created a great need in all of us to express ourselves," said actor Rodrigo de la Serna, who stars in "The Motorcycle Diaries".

"I think it has helped us say things more clearly and more forcefully," he said.

Hollywood is waking up to the talent on its doorstep and is snapping up Latin American talent for English-language films.

Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron has just completed the latest Harry Potter movie, while Brazil's Fernando Meirelles is filming "The Constant Gardener" with Ralph Fiennes following his critically acclaimed "City of God".

Anglo-Saxon dominance

Mexican actor Diego Luna, discovered in the cult hit "Y Tu Mama Tambien", will be seen next in director Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal" with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Rodrigo Santoro has made the jump from Brazilian soaps with roles in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Love Actually".

Hollywood is pushing local movies
into the background

But Latin American films are still seen mainly by national audiences with few crossover hits. And the region's output is not reflected on local cinema screens, which show almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon films.

"South America is very divided because of the mentality of its own people who worship the United States and Europe but think very little of their neighbours," said Barreto. "We need to become better at selling our own products."

Salles, who hired a pan-American crew on "The Motorcycle Diaries", believes things are changing, albeit slowly.

"We're much closer than we ever thought we could be, yet there's so much road still to be covered," he said.