Rio de Janeiro-based equity investor RioFilme has launched a pioneering cinema circuit in the city’s hillside slums, or favelas. No exhib has ever ventured into these teeming neighborhoods, notorious as lawless drug havens. However, the Rio government’s clean-up drive in preparation for hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics has cleared many favelas of drug gangs.

RioFilme chose to debut the first of its planned 10 theaters in Complexo do Alemao, the scene of clashes last year between drug dealers and some 3,000 police and military officers.

“It’s clean of drug dealers now,” declares RioFilme prexy Sergio Sa Leitao.

The first theater opened on Dec. 24, when RioFilme gave the favela’s 160,000 inhabitants a “Christmas present”: a 93-seat 3D stadium-seating theater. Aimed at luring new moviegoers to an experience few of them have been able to afford before, ticket prices at CineCarioca Nova Brasilia are at half the national average of 9 reales ($5). So far, the new theater has yielded an occupancy rate of 85%, performing far better than its rivals in tony shopping malls.

“We believe that the high volume in admissions make up for our low ticket prices,” says Sa Leitao, who admits that the main issue is finding building space in the crowded slums. “Our objective is to complete 10 theaters by the end of 2012.”

RioFilme has been screening three pics twice a day and introducing a new set of three movies every week. On the inaugural week, CineCarioca screened “Tron: Legacy,” “Megamind” and local blockbuster “Muita calma nessa hora” (Stay Cool Now). The second week featured “Tangled” and Brazilian hits “Desenrola” (Unwrap It) and “De pernas pro ar” (Legs in the Air).

As a pic investor, RioFilme has backed “Muito calma nessa hora” and “Desenrola” as well as last year’s all-time record-busting pic “Elite Squad 2” by Jose Padilha. This year, it will manage a production budget of $8 million and the $10 million Funcine Rio fund, a new public/private hybrid pic fund. It has invested in a slate of 18 pics, with 10 releases planned for this year.
Among its upcoming projects are animated feature “My Big, Big Friend,” World War II dramas “Dirty Hearts” and “The Mountain,” as well as “Artificial Paradise,” produced by Padilha and helmed by Marcos Prado.