Kleber Mendoca Filho’s “Aquarius,” (pictured) which plays in Cannes’s 2016 competition, is a sign of Brazil’s buildup as a player whose films are forging more links abroad and being released in overseas theaters. “Aquarius,” produced by Recife’s CineScopio and Said Ben Said’s Paris-based SBS Prods., is set for an Oct. 17 release in France.

“When I left Brazil in the ’90s to study in London, I thought: ‘I’m going to study something that doesn’t exist in Brazil: Cinema!’ At the time, we produced one to three films per year,” recalls Bossa Nova Films’ Paula Cosenza. “Now production numbers have risen to over 100 a year.”

State aid has, in part, driven this revolution. Brazil’s film and TV agency Ancine earmarked 500 million reals ($145.5 million) for production and distribution aid in 2015. That figure dwarfs many Western European nation’s incentive systems. Spain’s main film subsidy budget this year, for instance, is just ¤30 million ($33.7 million).

In 2009, Brazilian film promo org Cinema do Brasil, backed by the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency Apex Brasil, launched a Distribution Support Award offering up to $15,000 for foreign distributors’ P&A campaigns on Brazilian titles. From just nine in 2011, the number of applications skyrocketed to 74 in 2015. That can, of course, be attributed to the plan being far better known now — plus the fact that international distributors are in more dire straits as more audiences watch foreign-language films on VOD. But the number of releases supported by Cinema do Brasil has also shot up — from six in 2011 to 24 last year. And from one in 2004, Brazilian international co-productions hit 26 in 2013 and 23 in 2104, per Ancine stats.

“The numbers are not huge, but they’re very interesting, showing a continuous increase,” says André Sturm, Cinema do Brasil chair. “And they’re from 2009. We had almost zero (releases) in 2000.”

At work is a virtuous circle. “We have the Distribution Support Award. We’ve increased the presence of Brazilian producers and distributors at markets, who have begun to become better known (abroad),” says Sturm, whose Cinema do Brasil also leads delegations to Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and San Sebastian. “Festival curators and directors start to look for their films because they know the producers. We’ve had a big increase of films in official selections, and when that happens, distributors get interested too.”

“Many EU countries have created significant film-TV export aid systems,” says Fabiano Gullane, producer of 2015 Sundance lead actress winner “The Second Mother,” which grossed $5.3 million worldwide, with three-quarters of that coming from outside Brazil, per Rentrak. “Before Cinema do Brasil’s support, we were at a distinct disadvantage. Now we’ve closed the gap.”

In the weight of its production aid, which mostly survived recession, and the number of support mechanisms, Brazil is beginning to resemble France.

Gullane notes that Brazil has co-production treaties and bilateral co-production funds with Argentina, Uruguay and Portugal. Launched in early 2013, a CDB Sales Agent Support Program awards up to $25,000 in promotion expenses to one sales agent launching a Brazilian film at a major festival. Ancine has created an auteur fund and a minority co-production fund for other Latin America countries.

“Brazil used to be isolated, because of its [Portuguese] language and size. Now it’s changed,” says Tatiana Leite at Rio de Janeiro’s Bubbles Project, which is putting minority equity into Chilean Camila Jose Donoso’s “Nona” and Argentina’s “La Familia Sumergida,” both co-produced out of France.

Co-production allows partners to feed their expertise and guarantees distribution in their countries, Leite adds.
Bossa Nova Films released “Tropicalia,” a docu-feature, and Berlin Panorama player “Absence” worldwide. “Without the help of Cinema do Brasil’s Distribution Support Award, we wouldn’t have had the same opportunity,” Cosenza says.

But despite the growth, Brazil wants more: Gullane is moving into English-language filmmaking with “Neon River,” from Karim Ainouz.

For the moment, Brazil is celebrating a home-grown film — “Neon Bull” — having a movie in selected for in succession for Venice   (the cult “Neon Bull”), Berlin and Cannesand Toronto. “It’s our first full slam,” Sturm says grinning.