Sa Leitao, Castro Power Up Brazil’s AfroReggae (EXCLUSIVE)

Rio-based production house develops 13-project movie-TV slate, aims to finance Rio NGO

In a big move on Brazil’s production and, indeed, NGO scene, two of its most decisive film execs, former Rio secretary of culture and RioFilme president Sergio Sa Leitao and Christian de Castro, a founding partner of consulting firm Zooks, have joined forces to tap investment and build a first movie-TV slate at the Rio-based and NGO-owned production company AfroReggae Audiovisual.

Sa Leitao will serve as AfroReggae CEO and Castro as its CFO.

The rebooted company has tapped what its partners described Friday as a “significant” amount of investment from a group of high-net individuals including three former presidents of Brazilian banks, led by Arminio Fraga of Gavea Investimentos, as well as further investment from Funcine Investimage 1, a fund controlled by Thierry Peronne.

AfroReggae’s first production slate, now in development, features nine TV series and four movies. Its flagship project, a fiction feature/TV series, “DAS-Anti Kidnapping Division,” centers on how Rio police stopped the city’s 1990s kidnapping crisis, Sa Leitao said.

Downtown Filmes Brazil’s biggest national movie specialist, has acquired rights to the movie’s Brazilian distribution. Globosat cable/satellite channel Multishow will air the series’ first two seasons.

The now empowered AfroReggae has inked with Paris Filmes, Brazil’s Lionsgate/Summit distributor, for Paris to release at least one AfroReggae title a year. It is also negotiating with H20 for the distribution of a docu feature, and another live-action movie based on the book “No Fio da Navalaha,” by AfroReggae coordinator Jose Junior, who oversees its project creation and development as its CCO, and Luis Erlanger.

Sa Leitao will continue as an ongoing executive producer at Sao Paulo-based Sentimental Films; Castro will continue as a partner at Zooks, which will headed by Ricardo Martins.

Twenty-three-year-old NGO Grupo Cultural AfroReggae remains the majority shareholder in Afroreggae Audiovisual. The production house is now scaled up and diversifying.

AfroReggae Audiovisual has so far produced four TV series with a total of 150 episodes, including “Conexões Urbanas,” one of the longest-running indie series in pay TV in Brazil, and “Papo de Polícia,” which also airs on Globosat’s Multishow channel. “Many employees of the company were born and raised in Rio’s favelas; some of them are regenerated ex-criminals,” said Leitao.

“The company has basically produced docs about social issues. We’re expanding for fiction and will work with a wide variety of genres and styles,” he added.

Canal Brasil will co-produce and run a TV series called “Mediação de Conflitos” and a documentary based on the book No Fio da Navalha,” both produced by AfroReggae Audiovisual.

In its favor: AfroReggae Audiovisual is launching at a time when new TV regulations, launched in 2011 with Law 12485, obliges international pay TV networks to invest in local programming and there is an international feeding-frenzy for higher-end TV series.

Afroreggae Audiovisual also now counts with two crossover executives, able to bridge the often highly disparate worlds of finance and content creation and, in Sa Leitao’s case, leverage public intervention, for private sector benefit or, vice versa, as with AfroReggae. At Rio public sector film-TV investment fund RioFilme, Sa Leitao’s investments helped fire up a wave of mostly mainstream movies that consolidated commercial production and distribution in Brazil, while other coin backed cinema theaters in favela or underscreened parts of Rio. Regular profits on investments built RioFilme’s further investment muscle.

The game plan at AfroReggae Audiovisual is for its revenues to eventually fund its NGO owner. Leveraging their financial backgrounds, Castro and Sa Leitao, which put together the company’s business plan and drew up its project portfolio, will convert AfroReggae from a private to publicly owned company. Sa Leitao points out proudly that AfroReggae has attracted investors who had never before invested in the film-TV sector: “We presented the figures of the Brazilian audiovisual market, and the investors were excited not only with the opportunity of contributing to AfroReggae, but also with the business prospects they identified in both the company and the sector,” he said.

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