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Hollywood breathes life into Spain's Canaries

AFP · 28 Nov 2013, 11:42

Published: 28 Nov 2013 11:42 GMT+01:00

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Barefoot young men in ragged clothes disembark from a 19th century-style whaling ship bobbing in the bay off the Canary Island of La Gomera. Despite their shipwrecked appearance, they are here on business.

They are here to shoot a Hollywood movie on this Atlantic island, giving hope to local workers and businesses stricken by five years of on-off recession.

Smiling for photographs with local girls, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, 30 — known as the big-screen superhero Thor — and his British co-star Tom Holland are among the better-known faces of the project.

They arrived a few days ago, but the first of the filmmakers came three months ago and the bars, restaurants, hotels and houses in this town of 2,000 people have filled up.

"This is fantastic. If only they could film all year round," said Sandra Lorenzo, 36, owner of a local restaurant, Los Chicos. "They have been ordering lots of meals."

Spain's Canary Islands are suffering more than most regions from the country's five years of economic crisis, with an unemployment rate over 35 percent.

But US filmmaker Ron Howard — director of blockbuster pictures such as The Da Vinci Code — saw in these beaches an ideal setting for his current film, In the Heart of the Sea.

It is the true story of a crew who descend into killing and cannibalism after being shipwrecked by a charge from a sperm whale in 1820 — the same tale that inspired Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick.

Wicker huts dot the black volcanic sand of the beach at Playa de Santiago, a tiny port by the town of Alajero.

The reproduction whaler sits at anchor nearby, surrounded by canoes and modern vessels for ferrying actors and crew to and from the sailboat.

Local carpenter José María Chinea, 51, was among various carpenters hired to help build the set.

He helped erect the old palm trees on the beach, and painted their parched leaves green.

"I was unemployed for three years and at my age that's usually permanent. Now look at me — I'm working in Hollywood, and so is my son," he said.

Ridley Scott's Moses crosses the sea

On the neighbouring Canary island of Fuerteventura, another film shoot is under way.

British director Ridley Scott arrived there on Monday with a crew of 400 to shoot part of his film Exodus — based on the Biblical story of Moses.

Scott previously spent several weeks in Andalucia, the southernmost region of the Spanish mainland and another place hard hit by the crisis.

There, where unemployment has topped 36 percent, locals queued up to earn €80 ($109 dollars) a day as extras when Scott was shooting there in August in a desert zone near the town of Almeria.

Story continues below…

The coming of Hollywood offers a lifeline to a Spanish production industry suffering from a fall in consumption, subsidy cuts and a rise in tax on tickets imposed in the crisis.

A parliamentary commission on Tuesday approved a proposal to support film producers and promote international shoots in Spain.

Foreign filmmakers can "dynamize the Spanish economy" and hold "intrinsic value as an external projector of Brand Spain", according to the text of the proposal.

"The cuts to industry and the abusive sales tax are choking us," said Fernando Sánchez, 32, owner of a local catering firm in Playa de Santiago.

"It is very good that the big US producers are looking to the Canaries and the south of Spain."

Chinea the carpenter added however: "It is a shame that they will be leaving soon. There's no other money coming into my household at the moment."

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