CARACAS, Venezuela - Latin America's greatest hero is finally getting a big-budget, Hollywood-style epic befitting his towering stature.
Simon Bolivar, who led the liberation of much of South America from the Spanish in the early 19th century, is the subject of "The Liberator," a two-hour epic that is among the costliest movies ever produced in Latin America.
The biopic, which was filmed in four Venezuelan and 12 Spanish cities, tells the tale of the high-born aristocrat turned revolutionary who helped free much of the continent from colonialism.
The film debuted in Venezuela on the anniversary of Bolivar's birthday and has sparked widespread excitement despite quibbles from historians over its accuracy. It is expected to premiere in the U.S. this fall.
The trade publication Variety says the movie cost $50 million, a budget unheard of in South American cinema. It is packed with stars, including hunky up-and-coming Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez as Bolivar. Ramirez won some international fame playing another Venezuelan figure, the terrorist Carlos the Jackal, in the 2010 French miniseries "Carlos."
The score is by charismatic music director Gustavo Dudamel, the director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the most famous product of Venezuela's system of youth orchestras.
After just two weeks in theatres in Venezuela, the film is already on track to be the most watched movie of the year, according to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. An informal poll at the Caracas premier suggested great enthusiasm for the film among attendees, if a limited historical understanding of its subject. Only a third of attendees knew that the film was debuting on Bolivar's birthday, for example.
"I fell in love with Bolivar again, and not just because Edgar Ramirez is so handsome," said Margarita Hernandez, a 34-year-old sculptor. "It was lovely to demystify Bolivar and see him as a man, not a God."
Already a major fixture in the firmament of Latin American history, Bolivar's star has risen even higher in Venezuela in recent years, thanks to the late President Hugo Chavez's determination to link his socialist revolution with Bolivar's historical project.
Other dramatizations of Bolivar's life have received financing from the Venezuelan government, but "The Liberator" was financed entirely independently, according to its Spanish and Venezuelan producers.
The film traces the life of South America's George Washington from his early years up until his death, with a few biographical liberties taken here and there.
Most jarring for historians is a scene that strongly suggests Bolivar died at the height of his powers, murdered by traitors and enemies. The accepted historical truth is that he died of tuberculosis at 47, isolated from power and with his dream of a united South America in shambles.
Chavez was a great promoter of the notion that Bolivar was murdered and went so far as to exhume his body in 2010 in an unsuccessful attempt to confirm this theory.
"Liberator" director Alberto Arvelo defended the decision to portray Bolivar as a martyr for his cause.
"We are artists and not historians, so we present our own interpretation of the world," he said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier contributed to this report.
"The Liberator" website: http://www.libertadorfilm.com
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