MADRID — The film camera swept across the cobbled streets, taking in Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz on a motorcycle as they raced behind a pack of bulls and dozens of men dressed in white with red scarves.
The Hollywood stars filmed the bull run scene last month in the historic centre of Cadiz in southwestern Spain for the new James Mangold-directed action-comedy “Knight and Day” which is set to hit US theatres in July 2010.
Producers hope the film will be a blockbuster while local officials hope the scenes shot in Cadiz and in the nearby city of Seville will highlight the charms of the region of whitewashed villages and attract more tourists.
The Cadiz municipal government made it easier for producers to get permits to shoot in the narrow alleys of the old town, provided offices for castings as well as police to keep onlookers at bay during filming.
“This is part of efforts by the municipality to promote the city, attract film producers and project Cadiz’s tourism image internationally,” Cadiz councilman Bruno Garcia who is in charge of tourism told local media.
With Spain facing a slump in the number of tourists, several local governments in Spain are encouraging movies with an international scope to be made in their backyards in a bid to reverse the trend.
Often the goal is to draw attention to towns or landscapes that have been largely overlooked by a tourism model that previously relied heavily on sun and sea holiday packages at ageing coastal resorts that are falling out of favour.
Last year Spain lost its ranking as the world’s second most visited country to the United States as the number of tourists it welcomed dropped 2.3 percent to 57.3 million, its first reversal in visitor numbers in over a decade.
The government expects the number of visitors to drop this year by 10 percent.
Apart from the recession and the weakness of the British pound, Spain has also suffered from increased competition in recent years from cheaper sunshine destinations in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Cadiz has welcomed the filming of several other movies in recent years, including the 2008 biopic “Manolete” starring Oscar-winning US actor Adrien Brody about the late Spanish bullfighter by the same name.
Earlier this year US actor Martin Sheen began shooting scenes in northern Spain for “The Way”, a movie directed by his son Emilio Estevez about the “Way of St. James” pilgrimage route also known as the “Camino de Santiago”.
Before work on the movie began, Sheen and his actor-director son met with the head of the regional government of Galicia, the region in northwestern Spain where the route ends, who offered logistical support for the project.
The action of “The Way” takes place against a backdrop of picturesque towns along the route such as Burgos, Leon and Logrono which are not firmly on the tourist radar.
Sometimes local governments give cash incentives to filmmakers.
Barcelona’s city hall provided one million euros for the making of US director Woody Allen’s 2008 movie “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” starring Scarlett Johansson which has been described as a “love letter” to the port city.
The regional government of the Canary Islands has agreed to partially finance a remake of the classic 1973 prison break film “Papillon” on the archipelago which will be made by Hollywood producer Branko Lustig.
“The authorities here are not doing this because they like films but because they like money. We will film their streets, their people and export the image of the Canaries,” he said last year after reaching a deal with authorities on the archipelago.
Movies have helped boost visitor numbers in other nations.
New Zealand got a massive tourism fillip after the “The Lord of the Rings” fantasy trilogy was set there.
Britain’s national tourism agency VisitBritain estimates one in five of the nation’s international tourists were inspired to visit by images they saw in movies or on television.
But Anita Fernandez Young, a lecturer in tourism management at Britain’s Nottingham University who has studied the impact of film on tourism, warns the strategy can backfire if the destination is not depicted in an attractive light or if it does not clearly feature as itself in the movie.
“Otherwise having a film made there will attract tourism to the place it is pretending to be. “Braveheart” was largely shot in Ireland for example, but tourism to Scotland increased after its release,” she told AFP, referring to the 1995 film starring Mel Gibson.
Spain’s potential for tours inspired by movie locations — known in the travel sector as “set-jetting” — is “enormous” according to British journalist Bob Yareham who is working on a website on the nearly 300 English-language films that were wholly or partially shot in the country.
“Nobody has done much about it. A lot of people don’t know that “Doctor Zhivago” was made here for example. All the big directors have made films here,” he told AFP.