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Rio Festival Opens Gateway to Brazil

Hawn, Fanning add glitz

It says a lot about the Rio Festival, and Brazil at large, that two high-end-for-Brazil Amazon-set movies – “Amazonia,” a family-skewed adventure tale, and “Serra pelada” (Bald Mountain), a period friendship drama – bookend the 15th edition of the Rio de Janeiro Intl. Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday.

Mainstream but upscale, “Amazonia” and “Bald Mountain” buck Brazil’s growing fame for big broad comedies and small art-house breakouts.

They pinpoint, however, current Brazilian production drivers: Rampant diversification; growing ambitions, galvanized by escalating film funding; a growing willingness to make films for markets, because the markets – domestic and international – are there.

Both also underscore Rio’s consolidating fest circuit lure.

Rio is Brazil’s biggest glam wham fest. This year, for instance, Academy Award winning actress Goldie Hawn will attend to support amfAR’s inaugural Inspiration Rio Gala. Event will mark the premiere of documentary “The Battle of amfAR” at the Rio Fest.

Dakota Fanning will present “Night Moves” this weekend in Rio.

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Though screening nearly 350 films from 60 countries, the heart of the festival remains its huge spread of local films.

“Our primary goal has always been to have our eyes open to what is happening in Brazil, Brazilian cinema and international co-productions,” said Rio Festival co-director Ilda Santiago.

She added: “Also, producers see the festival has grown to be an important platform for them. It can really create buzz, can really add something to releases, be that in Brazil or around the world.”

The more the world looks to Brazil – for its market, co-production funding, movies and talent, all pushed further front-and-center by the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics – and the bigger Brazilian films, the bigger Rio’s platform.

For Brazil, films certainly don’t come much bigger than “Amazonia,” which closed the Venice Festival and opened Rio Thursday.

Co-produced by France’s Biloba Films, owned by Stephane Milliere’s Gedeon Programmes, and Brazil’s Gullane Filmes, the survival thriller tracks a Capuchin monkey that, a domestic pet, fights for its life after an air-crash deposits it in the Amazon jungle.

Brazilian producer Fabiano Gullane called it the biggest “challenge in my life”: Six years in the making, shot over three years entirely in the Amazon, with animals playing all the characters and 18 months of post-production.

Co-produced by Warner Bros. and local movie giant Globo Filmes, Brazilian helmer Hector Dhalia’s awaited “Serra Pelada (Bald Mountain), a hoped-for upscale Brazilian blockbuster for WB, will officially close the 15th Rio de Janeiro Intl. Film Festival on Oct. 9.

Set against a real-life, ‘80s Amazons gold rush that spawned the largest open-air gold mine in the world, “Bald Mountain” is a tale of greed, which destroys a friendship and the environment.

It marks a return to Portuguese filmmaking for Dhalia, who became one of Brazil’s hottest-young directors after helming “Drained” and “Adrift,” before taking on the 2012 English-language Amanda Seyfried starrer “Gone” for Summit, Lakeshore and Sidney Kimmel.

Pic is a cherished project for Wagner Moura, star of Jose Padilha’s “Elite Squad” and “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within,” the highest-grossing Brazilian film ever, who toplines and co-produces.

In a coup for Rio, “Mountain˝ will world-premiere at the festival.

Elsewhere, in and outside Rio’s main Brazilian competition, Premiere Brazil, the 43 local features run a huge gamut from relationship dramas (“Underage,” “The Sheep’s Clothing”) to social-issue fiction (“Beheadings Game”), social allegory (“Periscopio”) and blockbuster-potential comedy (“The Dognapper”).

Films increasingly use genre elements, boast punchier pacing, whether Vicente Ferraz’s war movie “Road 47” a World War II movie, or Fernando Coimbra’s Toronto and San Sebastian buzzed-up debut, “A Wolf at the Door,” a kidnap suspense thriller.

“Brazil’s industry still has a long way to go but it’s far more solid these day, allowing for different formats, issues and ideas,” Santiago commented, highlighting the fact that the Brazilian line-up shows “renowned or established producers really going for first time films, or the other way round.”

Gullane, for instance, produces “Wolf,” Coimbra’s debut, Fernando Meirelles’s O2 Filmes “Sheep’s Clothing,” the second film from Paulo Morelli.

The 2013 Rio de Janeiro Festival runs Sept. 26 to Oct. 10.

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