Can Latin America top ‘City of God’?

Coin infusion could help local pix cross borders

HOLLYWOOD — Films are exploding out of South America, where production has doubled in Argentina and quadrupled in Chile. Brazil estimates 50 local releases this year, up from 30 in 2003. The question is: Can any of these pics strike out beyond national borders to set the global market on fire? So far, it’s not obvious where the next “City of God” is going to come from.

When Fernando Meirelles’ gangland epic broke out in Cannes two years ago, it was hailed as the revelation of the year. The Brazilian pic went on to score four Oscar noms and boffo grosses in a slew of territories, including more than $7 million in the U.S. and $4 million in the U.K.

Argentina has produced recent memorable pics, but none on the scale of “City of God.” Fabian Bielinsky’s “Nine Queens” and Juan Jose Campanella’s “Son of the Bride,” both distribbed by Sony Pictures Classics, did so-so business at the domestic wickets. The former grossed more than $1 million in the U.S. and has been remade as the upcoming release “Criminal” by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s Section Eight with thesps Diego Luna and John C. Reilly. The latter did around $6 million in Spain, just $2 million over its local earnings.

Argentina and Chile owe their production booms to state funding, while Brazil’s production upsurge stems from tax breaks that have virtually obliged studios to co-produce local pics and encouraged companies outside the entertainment industry to invest in local cinema.

The boom in Argentina is a sharp turnaround from 2001-02, when a deep economic crisis sapped state and private funding for pics. There were 44 domestic films in 2002 and 53 in 2003. Bets are on for pics from big-name directors, including Luis Puenzo’s “La puta y la ballena” (The Whore and the Whale), Bielinsky’s “El aura” (The Aura) and Campanella’s “La Luna de Avellaneda” (The Moon of Avellaneda).

Further north in Mexico, however, film production remains tepid despite the rousing success of “Amores perros,” “Y tu mama tambien,” and “The Crime of Father Amaro.”

Chilean vets

Government aid in Chile has spawned new filmmakers, but the pics likely to grab attention are helmed by vets, among them Miguel Littin’s “La ultima luna,” (The Last Moon), Silvio Caiozzi’s dramatic comedy “Cachimba” and Andres Wood’s drama “Machuca” starring renowned Argentinian thesp Federico Luppi.

New pics from Brazil with international breakout potential include “Romeo and Juliet Get Married” helmed by Bruno Barreto, whose 1976 comedy “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” remains among the biggest hits from Brazil. Barreto also directed thriller “Four days in September,” a foreign Oscar nominee in 1998.

Daniel Filho’s “A Dona da historia,” based on the play by Joao Falcao, could also be tipped for an international release.

Both pics are co-produced by Disney’s Latin American label, Miravista. BVI owns the worldwide rights.

UIP and Universal Home Video Brazil are banking on the worldwide soccer craze to sell their co-production “Pele Forever,” a docu on the legendary soccer player from Brazil.

Che’s diaries

But perhaps the pic with the most obvious globe-sizzling potential is not exclusive to one country.

U.S.-U.K.-Latino road movie “Motorcycle Diaries” was snapped up by Focus Features after its worldwide debut at Sundance for more than $4 million, and several foreign buyers have followed suit.

Shot across the length and breadth of South America, the pic based on Che Guevara’s diaries is helmed by Brazil’s Walter Salles (of “Central Station” fame) and is edited by “City of God’s” Oscar-nommed Daniel Rezende. Pic stars Argentinian thesps Rodrigo de la Serna and Mia Maestro and Mexico’s Gael Garcia Bernal.

The U.S. is repped by Robert Redford’s Southfork Pictures and the U.K. by FilmFour. Co-producers include Argentina’s Daniel Burman and Diego Dubcovsky.

(Charles Newbery in Argentina and Marcelo Cajueiro in Brazil contributed to this report. )

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