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Bizzers Like ‘Sound’ of South-South Co-Productions

South Africa-Brazil collab looks to cash in on BRICS partnership

When veteran producer Neil Brandt of South Africa’s Fireworx Media decided to set up shop in Brazil in 2015, he didn’t worry that the company’s creative vision would be lost in translation.

Though the two countries don’t share a common tongue, they have poignant similarities. Regional powerhouses and bulwarks of the BRICS trade bloc, both are nations faced with rampant inequality that’s nonetheless proven to be fertile ground for their creative minds.

“There are an enormous amount of stories to told in both countries,” says Brandt. “There’s friction in these societies. Where there’s friction, there’s sparks, and where there are sparks, there are stories.”

For “The Sound of Animals Fighting,” an ambitious South Africa-Brazil co-prod directed by fast-rising South African helmer Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, there was a natural entry point for a film that travels from the gritty streets of Johannesburg to the underworld of Sao Paolo. Taking inspiration from real-life stories of South African drug mules languishing in Brazilian prisons, the movie marks the boldest gambit yet to bring together two countries reported to be moving toward a co-production treaty.

Brandt admits the going hasn’t been easy. “It’s been a huge learning curve financing a film on an international level,” he says. “It’s like capturing lightning in a bottle.”

“Animals Fighting” represents a shift in how producers from the so-called “global south” can explore financing models that rely less heavily on North American and European coin. The co-prod between Fireworx Media Brazil and Brazil’s Los Bragas and Querosene Filmes is being repped by Versatile in international markets and XYZ Films in the U.S., with an eye toward shooting by Q3 this year.

With so much of its financing staked by its South African and Brazilian partners, the project “can give producers from the ‘global south’ encouragement that we…can look to colleagues around us to tell stories,” says Brandt.

“We need to find our own language. Not only our own cinematic language, but also our own producing language.”

That desire has been on the rise in recent years. At the inaugural BRICS Film Festival in 2016, which sought to highlight the trading bloc’s cultural output while also boosting business ties, India’s then-minister of information Venkaiah Naidu mooted the prospect of co-production treaties with Russia and South Africa. Along with an eye toward Brazil, South African bizzers are hoping to finalize a treaty with their Chinese counterparts before hosting the next BRICS fest this year.

The appeal is obvious for nations who are showing a more forceful presence on the global stage. With the talent attached to “Animals Fighting,” Brandt hopes the movie will likewise announce itself with a splash.

Following on the heels of Shongwe-La Mer’s acclaimed debut, “Necktie Youth,” which premiered at the Berlinale in 2015, the film is toplining Emile Hirsch (“Milk,” “Into the Wild”) and Alice Braga (“City of God,” “Elysium”). Brandt says everyone onboard has an eye toward the movie’s strong international sales potential.

“We’re making a film that wants to find a market,” he says. “If we pull it off, it will be a very exciting moment. We’re dealing with uncharted territory.”

South African helmer Sibs Shongwe-La Mer
CREDIT: Shongwe-La Mer

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