Brazil’s RT Features Give U.S. Independent Films a Boost

To find one of the biggest impact players on the American indie scene, you have to go to Sao Paulo.

Rodrigo Teixeira’s Brazil-based RT Features has produced Sundance hits “Indignation” by director James Schamus and “Little Men” by Ira Sachs, and heading to Berlin, it’s also behind James Gray’s sci-fier “To the Stars,” and has inked a joint production venture with Martin Scorsese.

Teixeira’s track record is extraordinary for any producer, no matter the nationality: RT has developed work with Noah Baumbach (“Frances Ha,” “Mistress America”), Kelly Reichardt (“Night Moves”), Sachs (“Love Is Strange”), Robert Eggers (2015 Sundance award-winner “The Witch”) and Gaspar Noe (Cannes competition player “Love”). The company is also firing up movies from a new generation of Brazilian directors.

Teixeira says co-production deals have infused money into the market, and afforded independent filmmakers the freedom to create their own stories.

But, he adds, while people are changing the ways they watch movies, the narratives being told have a sameness to them. “We are in creative crisis,” Teixeira says. “I’ve been asking myself: How can we make stories that change, and endure for the future?”

One way, he feels, is to break down borders. The Scorsese-RT Features film fund, announced at Cannes in 2014, will finance and produce five first and second features from filmmakers worldwide. Scorsese and RT are discussing which projects to select, aiming to produce two films in 2016, Teixeira says.

Fast Track
RT Features funds U.S. indies and films closer to its Brazilian home
$2m “Frances Ha” budget
$2 RT Features films unspooling in Berlin
$10 Brazilian titles on the RT slate so far

RT also works with established auteurs as a way to ensure the production slate has artistic heft. Gray’s “To the Stars” is in line to be the director’s next film after “The Lost City of Z,” now in post, Teixeira says. Co-written with Ethan Gross, it’s scheduled to shoot next year.

Closer to home, Teixeira’s pipeline includes six features helmed by a new generation of Brazilian directors who, bucking the conventions of local comedies or straight art films, meld arthouse with genre gristle and narrative drive.

In December, IM Global/Canana joint venture Mundial took global sales rights to “Era el cielo,” starring Leonardo Sbaraglia (“Wild Tales”). It also reps the Spanish-language debut of Marco Dutra, which recounts the impact on a couple when a wife tries to keep her rape a secret from her husband; the film was adapted by Lucia Puenzo, one of Latin America’s leading female directors, from Sergio Bizzio’s book.

Another RT title, “The Friendly Animal,” is a take on the classic Western genre from female director Gabriela Almeida Amaral, who likes to make Tarantino-type movies, Teixeira says.

In all, six of the 10 Brazilian titles unveiled by RT since 2014 are first or second films or follow-ups from the same directors, and nearly all use genre conventions — including favela-set action thriller “Alemao 2” from Jose Eduardo Belmonte, and another Dutra project that transplants Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to Brazil’s Northeast (with Ichabod Crane
as a woman).

RT is also in lock step with international concerns over costs. A major complaint of funders is that filmmakers draw state financing for projects with bloated budgets, and then make money from working on a film regardless of its market results.

“The first thing we need to change is budgeting films at real numbers,” says Teixeira, noting that “Frances Ha,” at $2 million, was “one of the lowest budgets and most successful films I’ve ever made.”

In another move that speaks to wider industry trends, RT has diversified into international TV production with HBO Latin America series “El Hipnotizador,” a Spanish-Portuguese language period procedural. “We’re definitely looking to expand our TV business,” Teixeira says. “ ‘El Hipnotizador’ was a great experience, and we hope to repeat it.”

Clearly, financing can come from anywhere, but RT is emerging as a proven model for sustainable independent movie production.

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