Caracas (Reuters): Lights, camera and ... revolution. Signaling from a director's chair, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inaugurated a film studio complex yesterday on the outskirts of Caracas to counter the cultural ''dictatorship'' of Hollywood movie giants. ''For Venezuela, action,'' Chavez called out as the cameras rolled and a harp and guitar band strummed traditional folk music on the set of a film in production.
Allied with Cuba and flush with oil cash, Chavez has clashed with Washington as he pushes a socialist revolution to rival US influence. Top US officials call him an oil-rich autocrat threatening regional stability. Chavez brands President George W Bush a terrorist, attacks US free-market policies and derides American consumer culture. He has even urged Venezuela children to ignore US heroes like Superman and forget Halloween celebrations.
Last year, he launched Telesur, a regional television news station meant to compete with networks such as CNN. His critics dismissed the channel as a vehicle for Venezuela to promote Chavez's left-wing agenda overseas. The Film Villa Foundation was opened with an investment of 9 million dollars for two studios that organizers hope will promote the production of independent local and South American movies. Chavez, a former soldier who says he is inspired by South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, applauded local filmmakers and urged them to work to counter the influence of US blockbusters.
''They inoculate us with messages that have nothing to do with our traditions,'' Chavez said. ''Hollywood sends a message to the world that tries to sustain the so-called American way of life and imperialism ... it's like a dictatorship.'' Film Villa's first production is a series about Francisco de Miranda, a leading figure in Venezuela's fight against colonial Spain and one of Chavez's heroes.
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