Brazilian prod’n gets Real

After three years of near silence, Brazilian film production is raising its voice at last. Output had nose-dived from 100 titles a year in the early ’80s to just a couple between 1992 and 1994, but as many as 40 features may launch this year.

During Brazil’s years of hyper-inflation, domestic distributors balked at handling risky national fare, preferring to opt for “safe” U.S. imports. But with the price stability introduced by last summer’s currency reforms, dubbed Plan Real, distributors are again seeking to handle Brazilian pix.

Together with the emergence of new financing options for local helmers, the change of heart among distribs has prompted a flurry of activity.

Titles ready for release include “Sabado” (Saturday) from director Ugo Giorgetti, “Perfume de Gardenia” (Scent of Gardenia) from Guilherme de Almeida Prado, “Mil e Uma” (One Thousand and One) from Suzana Moraes and Helvecio Ratton’s “O Menino Maluquinho” (The Nutty Nutty Boy), based on the kids’ character created by Brazilian writer Ziraldo.

Latter pic, distributed by Grupo Novo do Cinema, racked up a reported $1 million in sales at February’s Berlin Film Festival. Another completed pic with strong commercial prospects is Helena Solberg’s “Bananas Is my Business,” a Brazilian-U.S. co-production about the late chanteuse Carmen Miranda.

Films currently in postproduction include “O Cinema de Lagrimas da America Latina” (The Cinema of Tears of Latin America) by top helmer Nelson Pereira dos Santos. Several other leading directors, including Caca Diegues, are expected to deliver this year.

When former president Fernando Collor dissolved state film agency Embrafilme three years ago, local producers faced a complete financing drought; state funds had been responsible for 100% of cinema financing for 20 years.

But now there are new sources, including a $15 million “emergency fund” created by the new federal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. State governments also are contributing via banks or agencies such as state-run distribbery Riofilme.

A more controversial source of coin comes from the 25% remittance tax levied on U.S. distributors and other foreign suppliers of film and TV programming. Following a July 1993 law, which effectively creates – at least from the Brazilian point of view – a tax shelter for foreigners, the distribs can direct up to 70% of the remittance tax into feature co-productions in Brazil.

But Steve Solot, Rio-based VP of Latin American operations for the Motion Picture Assn. (formerly the Motion Picture Export Assn. of America), says the law fails to take into account the fact that American distributors already get a tax credit in the U.S. for taxes paid in Brazil. If a company takes advantage of the Brazilian shelter, it is no longer eligible for a U.S. tax credit – something many American companies are reluctant to give up. “We’re working on ways to resolve that, but I can’t say how long it will take, Solot adds.

So far, only Columbia has committed to a co-production. The project involves L.A.-based Brazilian helmer Bruno Barreto, husband of U.S. thesp Amy Irving.

Altogether, as much as $50 million may be invested in film production in 1995, the largest amount in Brazilian history. Still, budgets are minuscule, ranging from $3 million down to approximately $100,000.

The performance of Brazilian product in the 1990s has issued a caution to producers. The biggest recent success, Sergio Rezende’s “Lamarca,” sold only 120,000 tickets domestically. Others have scored just 30,000. Thus, producers are looking to partner with TV companies and devote greater efforts to international sales.

In February, Antonio Urano, former international director at Embrafilme, joined with producer Tarcisio Vidigal to create a sales division at production house Grupo Novo do Cinema – so far the only Brazilian distrib that’s wooing foreign buyers. As well as selling “The Nutty Nutty Boy,” Grupo Novo has made sales of Rezende’s “Lamarca,” “Once Upon a Time” by Arturo Uranga and “Rio’s Love Song” by Caca Diegues.

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