CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela is to give the American actor Danny Glover almost $18m (£9m) to make a film about a slave uprising in Haiti, with President Hugo Chávez hoping the historical epic will sprinkle Hollywood stardust on his effort to mobilise world public opinion against imperialism and western oppression.
The Venezuelan congress said it would use the proceeds from a recent bond sale with Argentina to finance Glover’s biopic of Toussaint Louverture, an iconic figure in the Caribbean who led an 18th-century revolt in Haiti.
It will also give seed money for a film version of The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel García Márquez’s novel about the last days of Simón Bolívar, who liberated much of South America from Spanish colonialism.
Glover, 60, who starred with Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon series, and more recently with Eddie Murphy in the film DreamGirls, is a civil rights activist and supporter of Mr Chávez’s radical leftwing policies.
A document from the congress’s finance commission said the culture ministry would be a partner with Glover and give $17.8m for “scripts, production costs, wardrobe, lighting, transport, makeup and the creation of the whole creative and administrative platform”.
The project could mark a breakthrough for Villa del Cine, a new government-funded studio outside the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, which is part of Mr Chávez’s effort to combat what he sees as American cultural hegemony.
Glover, who visited Caracas at the weekend, told the Guardian that he would direct the film, titled Toussaint. “It’s so advanced that you can taste it. We’ve scouted locations within 75km [45 miles] of Caracas. I can do everything I need to do with this film from here.” He said he had been in talks with the government, but was unaware that a decision had been made until journalists tipped him off about the congress’s announcement. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” he said.
He suggested that there was still some uncertainty over whether the venture would go ahead. “One of the major axioms in theatre is never talk about anything until the deal is signed. There’s a lot of deliberation that goes on before something actually happens.”
It appeared that the congress timed the announcement to coincide with a media conference in Caracas hosted by the television network Telesur, a Venezuela-funded regional answer to CNN. Glover is on the board.
It would not be the first declaration to run ahead of reality. Mr Chávez once said the director Oliver Stone planned to make a film about him, but it came to nothing. However at the president’s request, Villa del Cine, which was inaugurated last year, is making a film about Francisco Miranda, who lit the fuse of South America’s liberation. A lavish production with hundreds of extras and battle scenes, its costumes and sets could work for the Haiti film.
Toussaint Louverture is a towering figure in the region’s history. A freed slave of African descent, he led thousands of slaves in successful campaigns against British, Spanish and French troops before being betrayed, captured and exiled. He died in 1803, just before his followers succeeded in establishing the island’s independence. William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about him.
Glover said he wanted to educate the US about the story. “It’s been essentially wiped out of our historic memory, it’s been wiped clean.”
The actor is chairman of the TransAfrica Forum, an advocacy group for African Americans and other members of Africa’s diaspora, and a vocal critic of the Bush administration. Along with the singer Harry Belafonte, Glover is the best known celebrity supporter of Mr Chávez, whom he considers “remarkable”. He is a regular visitor to Venezuela.
Venezuela’s congress, which consists entirely of Chávez supporters, also said it would give $1.8m to develop a screen treatment of The General in His Labyrinth, by a Venezuela-born director, Alberto Arvelo. Some rate Gabriel García Márquez’s account of the final days of Bolívar along with the Colombian writer’s better known novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.
To build consciousness of what Mr Chávez calls “21st-century socialism”, the government has funded nationwide screenings of Charlie Chaplin’s classic film Modern Times, about the exploitation of US factory workers during the depression.
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