"Christian Poveda was a respected journalist; a professional who never hesitated to take great risks in the name of freedom of information," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Poveda, who lived and worked as a filmmaker and photojournalist in El Salvador during the civil war that began in 1980, had recently begun touring with this latest film, "La Vida Loca," a powerful and disturbing documentary that was receiving widespread recognition.
It won the Guadalajara Film Festival Memory Award this spring, and had been selected for the San Sebastian Film Festival, the Morelia Festival in Mexico and the International del Nuevo Cine Latin-American festival in Cuba.
In April, Poveda told the Los Angeles Times that despite the drugs, shootings, beatings and cruelty he captured on the film, he had sympathy for many of the gang members, whom he described as "victims of society."
He placed the blame for the violent gangs in El Salvador on U.S. policies, and said he "was never afraid of them."
"As savage as they can be, they're people of their word. The gangs are very well-structured organizations and the decision made by a gang is the final one. From the moment I understood that, I had no problems," he said.
Salvadoran Public Safety Minister Manuel Melgar called Poveda's slaying a "repugnant and reproachable criminal act" and said police would work "tirelessly" to find the killers.
The French ambassador in San Salvador said France would support the Salvadoran investigation.