No longer the slumbering giant of old, Brazil’s film biz is flexing its muscles and the outside world has taken note.

This is especially true when it comes to international co-productions. In this critical arena, Brazil is now said to have the most accessible film industry among the so-called high-growth, emerging BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

As if to underline its newly robust presence on the global stage, Brazil offers up to $5.1 million per film in a mix of soft money and straight grants. Plus, co-producers can tap Brazil’s potentially highly profitable quota-encouraged TV production, which brings more money to the table for similar arrangements in Europe.

“It’s easier to raise money in Brazil than in the international market,” says helmer-producer Fernando Meirelles, who is co-producing his next directorial outing, Aristotle Onassis biopic “Nemesis,” with David Aukin and Hal Vogel’s Daybreak Pictures and Pathe U.K. “Maybe that’s why so many international producers are looking for Brazilian partners to share their projects.”

Meirelles’ O2 Filmes is also developing and co-producing Stephen Daldry’s “Trash,” to be shot later this year in Brazil as well as Portuguese-Spanish docu “The Meaning of Life” by Miguel Mendes.

Daldry is chairman of London-based Film & Music Entertainment (F&ME), which co-produced Julien Temple’s music docu “Children of the Revolution: This Is Rio” with Germany’s 2Pilots and Brazil’s TV Zero.

“Our experience making ‘Children’was a good one in that we found a specialist in the field of making high-end documentaries in TV Zero, and when you add their particular flair, skill and access with specialized music subjects, we were on to a winner,” says F&ME CEO Mike Downey. “As a tried and trusted partner of (national film agency) Ancine, RioFilme and the Rio Film Commission, (TV Zero) was able to traffic a series of applications that bore fruit.”

There’s good news for U.K. producers in the recently passed U.K.-Brazil bilateral co-production agreement, which is soon to be ratified. Ten other countries inked co-production treaties with Brazil, including Spain, India, Germany, Canada, France, Portugal and Italy. Brazil also participates in the Ibermedia Fund, which provides soft loans to co-productions among its member nations in Latin America as well as Spain and Portugal.

In co-productions with treaty countries, the Brazilian partner’s equity participation in the project is agreed upon between the partners. However, when the co-production involves a producer from a non-treaty country, the Brazilian partner must retain at least 40% of the production’s equity.

“All the various federal subsidies and tax incentives available for Brazilian film and TV projects can be tapped by international co-productions with both treaty and non-treaty countries, provided that the project is an official co-production approved by Ancine,” says Leonardo M. Barros, partner and senior veep, international, of Conspiracao Filmes, which co-produced Andrucha Waddington’s “Lope” with Spain’s Antena 3. Biopic on the life of Spanish playwright Lope de Vega competed at Venice, won two Spanish Goya awards and was one of the five top-grossing Spanish films of 2010.

Conspiracao is a minority producer in French/Brazilian TV miniseries/feature “Rouge Bresil,” starring Stellan Skarsgard and Joaquim de Almeida, which aired in France in mid- January; and is a production partner in the German-Brazilian feature-length comedy “Bach in Brazil,” due to shoot this year in Ouro Preto, Brazil, and Buckeburg, Germany.

Markets and fests play a big role in facilitating the inking of deals.

“Berlin is the first market of the year and it is essential to be there to sense the mood of buyers and distributors for the year,” says Barros, who is based in Hamburg and attends the Berlinale every year. “This year we will not be selling nor pre-selling any specific finished film, but we do have new projects we will discuss with potential co-producers.”

The Rio Film Commission is the only film commission in Brazil to offer its own incentive to out-of-state local and international audiovisual projects. Unfortunately, the grant program was frozen last year due to state budget issues, says commissioner Steve Solot, although he sees it being revived in the future. Thus far, four projects have received $125,000 each in grants, including Gustavo Lipsztein’s romantic adventure pic “A Night in Rio,” with Brazil’s EH Movies & Nuts and U.S.-based Lloyd Inc. co-producing, and U.K. docu “9.79*,” in which filmmaker Daniel Gordon probes the circumstances behind the 1988 100-meter Olympic race that saw Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson disgraced amid widespread doping allegations.

“With all the focus on Rio from the upcoming World Cup, Olympics, and other important events, we are completely inundated with applications, information requests and projects,” Solot says.

But hitting paydirt is not automatic and requires a lot of groundwork.

“The number of funding opportunities in the first instance looks exciting, but unless you have a good partner and a good lawyer to lead you through the complexities — especially of the tax-based funding — the pot of gold can easily turn into a cup of cold sick,” warns Downey, using a colorful English expression.

He points to the Rio Intl. Film Festival in September as an ideal venue to make vital contacts and access all levels of the local industry.

Berlin Daily Spotlight 2013: Brazil Cinema
Surging co-prod activity signals emerging giant | Org offers P&A coin to spur distribs | Brazilian pics in Berlin