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Brazil Makes Great Strides at This Year’s Berlinale

Will early 2017, and Berlin in particular, be seen in retrospect as a golden age for modern Brazilian cinema, cut short in its prime?

Brazil’s presence at the festival is at an all-time high this year even as producers fear public film funding at Brazilian federal film-TV fund Ancine will plunge. Ten completed movies, led by Marcelo Gomes’ competition player “Joaquim,” will play in different sections of the fest: “Vazante,” from Daniela Thomas, who directed three movies with Walter Salles, opens Panorama; Sundance sensation “Call Me by Your Name,” produced out of Brazil by Rodrigo Teixeira’s RT Features, also plays in Panorama.

That bounty represents a big increase from the not-too-distant past. Up to 2014, with occasional exceptions, Brazil averaged just three to five films a year at Berlin, including shorts. Only Germany, U.S., France, and Canada boast more movies selected for this year’s Berlinale than Brazil.

On top of that, 39 companies are slated for Cinema do Brasil’s exhibition space at Berlin’s European Film Market.
Teixeira credits Ancine and Cinema do Brasil for increasing the country’s attendance at the fest. “In the past few years, Brazilian producers have been travelling all over the world to attend film festivals and enhance our global outreach,” he says.

Fabiano Gullane, whose company is another Brazilian production powerhouse, and has “Just Like Our Parents” in Panorama, agrees. Berlin’s Brazil bonanza “demonstrates the blooming of the Brazilian film industry over the past 15 to 20 years, ever since the creation of Ancine and the program Cinema do Brasil,” he says.

Ancine’s Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA) has poured some $2.5 billion real ($800 million) into film and TV production and distribution via its Brazil on All Screens scheme over the past three years. And Cinema do Brasil offers P&A to foreign distributors for Brazilian releases, and promotion expenses to sales agents. These programs have helped foster a new generation of filmmakers.

Co-productions are a big push for producers. Teixeira notes that “most of the projects that make the cut at festivals are co-productions, which shows we all need to work in that direction.”

To boost co-productions, Ancine launched bilateral film funds with Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Mexico. With film funding more difficult to access in Europe, Latin America has taken over from France and other European countries as the most-frequent co-production region, with Brazil’s natural partners, neighbors Argentina and Uruguay, driving tie-ups.

That shift in allegiance has some collateral fallout: If co-production with Europe has become more difficult, it is all the more important to attend markets such as Berlin and Cannes where such alliances are formed.

Improved incentives have aided “newcomers and producers outside São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, bringing new voices, news stories, and new scenarios to the screens,” says Diana Almeida, producer of 2014 Berlin Teddy winner “The Way He Looks.”

She has “Two Irenes” at Berlin this year. She says Brazil’s millennial generation is “much more into stories reflecting a more diverse and empowered world. So if my first feature, ‘The Way He Looks,’ was about showing that gay love is just love after all, ‘Two Irenes’ is about female empowerment and sorority.”

The selection and audience interests of Berlin align closely with industrial and artistic trends energizing contemporary Brazilian cinema. One is women. Seven of the 10 Brazilian selections at Berlin are produced by women and four are directed by women — a record.

The number of women working is Brazil’s film industry has increased, though so have the numbers working for the industry as a whole.

Tatiana Leite, producer of Julia Murat’s “Pendular,” says only two of eight participants in her young producers support group are men. But even as they grow in numbers, female filmmakers still chafe at being treated differently than their male peers.

“In creative fields, women of my generation feel at ease, with the same opportunities as men. But, as a woman film director, I still feel the press ghettoizes me, treats me as a minority, a specialty,” says Thomas.

“Vazante” turns in part on “forced marriages, which have for centuries destroyed the happiness of young girls,” Thomas says. But it is about much more.

Set in the lonely Diamantina Mountains, in 1821, it is a tale of miscegenation, “the driving force in development of society in Brazil,” Thomas says.

“Women directors have always been pigeonholed into small, arthouse, non-dangerous, and non-profitable films,” says Almeida, who calls a recent ruling that all Ancine fund committees were 50% made up of women an “amazing victory,” but cautions that “there’s a marathon ahead.”

The two Brazilian movies that focus most on gender issues at the festival may be “Two Irenes” and “Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl” — and they were both directed by men, Fabio Meira and Felipe Braganca, respectively.

Other Brazilian films at Berlin include “Rifle” and “Nalu on the Border,” which were produced out of Porto Alegre, in south Brazil, while “Joaquim” and “Don’t Swallow My Heart” came out of Recife, in its northeast.

“Joaquim” captures what drove freedom-fighter Tiradentes to rebel against the Portuguese crown; “Don’t Swallow” depicts the legacy of hatred from the 1864-70 War of the Triple Alliance, in which Brazilians slaughtered some 600,000.

The film implicitly map the makings of modern Brazil, and its identity.

“About a decade ago, when we were trying to establish auteur cinema in Brazil, we made films about things close to us,” says Braganca. “Now, as Brazil faces a large crisis, which is not only political but about identity, we’re talking about bigger issues: Who we are, where we come from.”

As many nations debate or defend their identity, such a focus gives Brazilian cinema a much larger resonance.

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this report.

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