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Brazil pins ’09 hopes on helmers

B.O. numbers disappoint despite more screens

RIO DE JANEIRO — Following a weak first half, Brazil’s theatrical market has recovered, and is expected to close the year virtually on par with last year, with a total B.O. of about 707 million reais ($307 million) and a total attendance of 89 million.

Next year, the industry is hoping for a stronger lineup of local pics and investments from the recently launched government incentive Sector Fund.

It’s still too early to measure what impact the world economic crisis will have on the Brazilian film biz. Considering the country’s gross domestic product grew 6% while screens expanded by 5%, the flat B.O. numbers are disappointing.

“Batman: The Dark Knight” with a B.O. of $14.2 million, and “Kung Fu Panda” with $11.7 million, lead the year’s rankings. Mauro Lima’s “My Name Ain’t Johnny,” which grossed $8 million, was the only local pic in the top 10.

“Some people say the theatrical sector here is not affected by the economic crisis, since entertainment is a way of escaping reality. I am not so sure,” says Jorge Peregrino, Paramount Pictures Intl.’s senior VP for Latin America.

Paulo Sergio Almeida, president of film marketing firm Filme B, is a bit more optimistic: “No one can diminish the importance of this crisis. Maybe we will have massive unemployment. But my bet is the theatrical sector will grow in 2009.”

The recent ShowBuzios exhibitors’ tradeshow showcased the lineup of both foreign and local pics for 2009.

Film bizzers are looking forward to Daniel Filho’s “If I Were You 2.” Fox will open the 2006 hit’s sequel Jan. 2. The comedy features a cast of telenovela stars led by Tony Ramos and Gloria Pires.

Indie distrib Downtown has co-produced and will distribute in 2009 three pics with significant commercial prospects. Jose Alvarenga’s “Divan,” a comedy scheduled for a March 13 release, is based on a book by Martha Medeiros that was adapted into a successful play. Sergio Rezende’s “Salve Geral,” skedded for a joint Downtown/Sony release in the second half of 2009, is set during a massive prison riot in Sao Paulo in 2006. Filho’s “Piece Era,” due to open in May, is based on Bosco Brasil’s play set in the 1940s and depicts the conflict between a Brazilian police officer and a Jewish immigrant.

Other local highlights for 2009 are Claudio Torres’ romantic comedy “The Invisible Woman” set for July; Heitor Dhalia’s “Adrift,” a family drama staring Vincent Cassel — the first pic from Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes deal with Universal; Henrique Goldman’s U.K./Brazil co-production “Brazuca”; and the remake of the 1976 drama “O menino da porteira.”

For now, the local pic production sector hasn’t been directly affected by the credit crunch, since most pics are funded by government incentives. The government’s national cinema agency, Ancine, launched the Sector Fund, a refundable pic incentive, last week. Ancine vowed to invest $32 million in film and TV production, distribution and marketing in 2009.

Ancine director Sergio Sa Leitao predicts the distribution and P&A investment will bolster 2009 box office, while production investment will start to pay off in 2010.

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