Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro in particular, seem to be finding their place on the international film scene.

Playing off the exotic locations featured in Blue Sky animated feature “Rio,” Fox scheduled the toon’s world premiere and press junket in Rio in March, luring Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg and Jamie Foxx to the city.

A few weeks later, Universal hosted the world premiere and junket for Justin Lin’s “Fast Five” in April, attracting nearly 400 people from abroad to Rio, including Universal execs, cast, producers, crew and foreign journalists — a natural choice since the fifth installment in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise was set and partially lensed in Rio.

Next in line will likely be “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1.” Since novelist Stephenie Meyer set Bella and Edward’s honeymoon in Brazil, the producers decided to film in the capital. City officials are hoping the filmmakers will agree to preem the finished pic in Rio next November.

“Virtually every day I hear of a new film project considering filming here. Most are small, but some are interesting films,” says Sergio Sa Leitao, president of Brazilian film investing agency RioFilme and co-creator of the Rio Film Commission. “We are currently negotiating with the producers of ‘The Samaritan,’ starring Samuel L. Jackson, and ‘The Blind Bastard Club,’ with Lenny Kravitz. Brazil is definitely on the map.”

There are two main reasons for such international visibility. First, Brazil will soon host two of the largest sports events in the world: In 2014, FIFA’s Soccer World Cup is set to hold the final match in Rio’s Maracana stadium, and in 2016, the city will host the Summer Olympics.

Perhaps even more important, however, the country’s economy is strong. Brazil has become an economic power as its GDP reached $2.1 trillion in 2010, a 7.5% increase from the previous year, passing Italy to boast the globe’s seventh-largest GDP.

Wealth is not only growing, but is actually being distributed (though the social gap continues to widen), allowing millions of poor families to join the middle class in recent years. With better quality of life comes cash to spare on movie tickets: Brazil’s total B.O. increased 29.9% in 2010, reaching $759 million. Though many doubted the market would continue to expand this year, the total B.O. rose 15.7% in Q1 of 2011 over last year.

“The film industry in Brazil is in its best moment in history. Box office, admissions, the screen count and the average ticket price are growing, as well as the government’s incentives to local productions,” says helmer Paulo Sergio Almeida, publisher of the Filme B e-newsletter. “It seems to be a sustainable growth.”

Another factor attracting international players to the Brazilian market is the fact the local currency, the real, is increasingly strong, meaning local gains translate into more dollars. From April 2009 to April 2011, the real appreciated 27% in relation to the U.S. dollar.

Exhibition sector and local pics

If the industry has an Achilles’ heel, it would be the lack of screens. Brazil has one screen for every 85,000 inhabitants — a low ratio even by Latin American standards (Mexico has one screen per 23,000).

But solutions are under way. Fueled by strong B.O., exhibs are speeding up expansion plans. They built 173 screens last year, up from 94 in 2009, for a total of 2,233 at the end of 2010. The rate of expansion is only expected to accelerate in coming years as Mexico-based Cinepolis entered the Brazilian market last year with high ambitions. The company built five megaplexes with a total of 35 screens in 2010.

“We aim to have approximately 300 screens in Brazil by the end of 2012,” says Cinepolis Brasil prexy Eduardo Acuna. “Our company decided to invest in Brazil because it believes in the Brazilian market’s growth potential and because there is a lack of screens here.”

The exhibition sector is not only expanding but also becoming more sophisticated with the introduction of 3D, VIP and Imax screens, which are pushing up the average ticket price.

Local pics play a key role in the market expansion. The total B.O. of local pics increased 71.7% in 2010, pushed by the boffo performance of Jose Padilha’s “Elite Squad 2.” Homegrown pics’ market share rose to 17.9% in 2010, up from 13.5% in 2009.

Meanwhile, the government continues to feed the production sector with incentives. The total amount of direct and indirect incentives is expected to reach nearly $187 million this year, up from $128 million in 2010.

Rio production runneth over | Indies’ screen shot | Brazilian co-prods boom as int’l partners get real | Brazilian bonanza
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