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Brazil’s film coin picks up

RIO DE JANEIRO — After three years of virtual stagnation, film production in Brazil now seems to be on the threshold of a new, potent launch. Never before has so much coin been made available to filmmakers.

Immediate forecasts are for 10 to 14 pix to be produced this year, rising to about 35 in 1995. Adding to the local euphoria was the selection of Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ “The Third Bank of the River” for the Berlin film festival after many years of absence by Brazilian pix at international events.

Most of the new financing coin comes from federal and municipal governments. Thus Banespa (the official regional bank of Sao Paulo) already has invested $ 5 million in 10 films; the local governments of Espirito Santo, Brasilia, and Rio de Janeiro made available another $ 10 million for films, while federal authorities have earmarked $ 16 million for 34 film projects.

In addition, a new tax shelter law enables distribs of foreign pix to apply 70% of their remittance taxes directly to local production, which is expected to generate another $ 11 million to $ 14 million. The majors’ first reaction seemed to be unanimously favorable.

At the Gramado Film Festival last August, Fox already had received five local projects. Col may produce Daniel Filho’s “The Inheritance,” and UIP is interested in a project by producer Luiz Carlos Barreto. Fox topper Sebastiao Martinez averred that each major probably will become involved in one or two local features, and all seem ready to invest the 70% tax remittance coin in local pix.

Another plus is expected to be a new plan called the Andima Project, which would entitle each film production to be set up as a separate company/enterprise empowered to sell shares. Optimists predict that the total amount of financing could reach $ 100 million over the next year.

As an almost inevitable corollary to the above, there’s already a lot of talk about a return to higher obligatory exhibition quotas for Brazilian pix, such as those that existed in the 1980s, and which at one point forced exhibs to show 120 days of local product each year. At present the quota is 28 days, though it is not strictly enforced due to the paucity of local product.

The most active distrib of local pix, Riofilme, entirely subsidized by the Rio authorities, is targeting an audience of 700,000 for its films this year, according to its topper Paulo Sergio de Almeida. That’s less than 1% of total Brazil admissions.

Riofilmes released “The Third Bank of the River” simultaneously with its Berlin screening.

Brazilian producers, meanwhile, are increasing co-productions. In the hopper are Hector Babenco’s “Foolish Heart,” Carlos Diegues’ “Tieta,” Arnaldo Jabor’s “Miss Simpson,” Daniel Filho’s “The Inheritance,” Tizuca Yamazaki’s “A Love Cry, ” David Sonnenchein’s “The Xuxa Kid” and Walter Hugo Khoury’s “The Wild Beasts.”

However, the track record of the few Brazilian features released in ’93 was disastrous. Pix by helmers such as Khoury, Ivan Cardoso, Paulo Thiago and Wladimir Carvalho bombed. Thus the big production plans of local producers are met with a skeptical smile by some observers.

“There’s a feeling of rejection by Brazilian audiences for local films,” says leading distrib/exhib Ugo Sorrentino. “The A-class audiences want A films and will avoid the usual low-budget Brazilian fare.”

Nonetheless, other local distribs such as Pandora Filmes and Films do Estacao also are releasing Brazilian fare. On the distribution side, local banners now corner 25% of playdates in Brazil. Seven distribs (Condor Filmes, Top Tape, Flashstar, FJ Lucas, Imperial, Omega and Play Arte) have teamed up with the Consorcio Severiano Ribeiro & Marcondes to release pix in the 107-screen Ribeiro exhib circuit. The deal is that the Consorcio keeps the theatrical rights while the member companies retain the more lucrative homevideo rights.

Set up in 1991, the Consorcio is a joint venture (70/30) between the Ribeiro group and Marco Aurelio Marcondes, former director of Embrafilme. The Consorcio released 32 titles last year, copping a 4.5% market share. Most successful pic was “Like Water for Chocolate,” which sold 300,000 tickets.

Another indie, Lumiere Latin America (formerly Initiale Brasil), hit paydirt with “Strictly Ballroom” (450,000 tix). It also released “Howards End, “”Delicatessen” and “Arizona Dream.”

Now the leading arthouse distrib/exhib, Eastacao Botafogo, runs eight screens in Rio and three in Sao Paulo. Company has 50 titles in its catalog, most in partnership with Top Tape (originally a homevid distrib). Product includes “The Wedding Banquet,””Equinox,””Wittgenstein” and local pic “Alma Corsaria.”

Biggest indie probably is Paulo and Magali Procopio’s Look Filmes, also hailing from the homevideo sector. Last year Look Filmes paid $ 200,000 for “Chaplin” and picked up other films such as “Much Ado About Nothing,””Farewell My Concubine” and “Three Colors: Blue.”

But despite the renewed interest in Euro product, non-U.S. films cull only about 2% to 3% of the market, using only three or four release prints, compared with 100 prints for a Yank blockbuster. Coin paid for an average Euro pic will be between $ 10,000 to $ 15,000, says Botafogo’s Marcelo Mendes, with $ 30,000 tops. The video market for these films is minimal.

The majors consider that chicken feed when compared with the big commercial market. “Jurassic Park” sold close to 4.4 million tix, while “Mrs. Doubtfire” lured 2.5 million in its first 10 weeks of release. Runners-up were “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Indecent Proposal,”$ 2.1 million each.

The U.S. majors took 75% of billings, of a total B.O. volume of around $ 120 million in 1993 (vs. nearly $ 400 million in homevideo). UIP rentals last year were $ 12.8 million, followed by Col/TriStar with $ 7.8 million and Warner Bros. , $ 7.3 million.

In all, attendance in Brazil last year hit 70 million, almost the same as 1992. Firstrun tix cost $ 3.50.

Fox regional manager Sebastiao Martinez opines that the market will grow this year, with close to 120 new screens due to open in shopping centers over the next year.

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