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Brazilian Milestones Energize Rio Film Festival

The Rio de Janeiro Film Festival unspools against a background of three milestones: the Oct. 5 general elections; a 2014 $540 million governmental funding package for film/TV, unveiled by president Dilma Rousseff in early July; and the impact of new 2012 TV regs, obliging pay TV channels to air 3.5 hours of Brazilian content weekly. All three factors galvanize the Rio Fest and RioMarket.

The festival, which closes with the world premiere of Stephen Daldry’s teen thriller “Trash,” boasted 250,000 spectators in 2013 and bows 350 films this year on 30 screens across Rio. It is one of Latin America’s biggest film events — and is a powerful gateway into Brazil’s ever-growing movie and TV markets, and ever more powerful industry.

No other Latin American festival suggests such a sense of a country in the throes of deliberate industry change. Take Rio’s centerpiece, the 41-feature Premiere Brasil competition: It’s the world’s biggest Brazilian film panorama.

“Brazil is at a crossroads, debating what kind of country we want (to be),” says Rio Fest co-director Ilda Santiago. “Following on documentaries, fiction features are increasingly looking at how Brazil has been built, for good and bad, over the last half-century.”

For example, in Gregorio Graziosi’s “Obra,” an architect discovers human bones on a construction site, implicating his family in Brazil’s dirty war; Andre Ristum’s “The Other Side of Paradise” chronicles the fate of a trade union member in the run-up to Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship; and Daniel Aragao’s thriller “I Swear I’ll Leave This Town” turns on “politicians, (and) the political process,” says Santiago.

Potential nonfiction highlights include “Sunday Ball,” from esteemed documaker Eryk Rocha, about how soccer unites deprived communities, and Theresa Jessaroun’s “Point Blank,” which focuses on Rio’s notoriously violent police.

As Brazilians have poured into cities, Brazilian cinema is finally addressing big city life, Santiago says, citing rich kid coming-of-age tale “Casa Grande” and “Absence,” from Chico Teixeira.

Equally, as Brazilian film finance soars, a new filmmaker generation is breaking through: Half of Premiere Brasil’s 10 fiction films are feature debuts, including romantic drama “Love Film Festival,” co-directed by scribe-turned-helmer Manuela Dias.

Brazil, moreover, is looking ever more to consolidate production alliances. One 2014 Rio Fest highlight is Mexico Focus, with the Latin American premiere of “Words With Gods” and soccer-themed TV series “Short Plays,” bringing key Mexican producers to Rio.

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