Fernando Meirelles (“The Constant Gardener,” “City of God”)’ and his O2 Filmes shingle is boarding Ernesto Solis’ live-action feature debut “The Animal Race,” a dystopian thriller set in Rio de Janeiro.
Budgeted at roughly $5 million, it will likely be one of the most expensive films to come out of Brazil in recent times.
Variety has been given access to a test run.
Meirelles co-produces the Portuguese-language sci-fi drama with former MGM executive Vinicio Espinosa of U.S.-based 11600 Films along with O2 partners Andrea Barata Ribeiro and Bel Berlinck.
“In an extremely unusual way, ‘The Animal Race’ comments on the path that our civilization is taking,” said Meirelles, adding: “The project is very different from what you see coming out of Brazil and that’s why I decided to embrace it.”
Barata Ribeiro concurred: “What fascinated me was the originality of the story; the script caught me from the first page.”
Solis, who has been the creative director behind a string of animation shorts and directed his first award-winning animated feature, “Coyote,” in 1997, based his thriller – co-written with Eva Klaver – on Brazil’s ‘Animal Game,’ a popular black market lottery game that was banned in 1946, but is still played underground today.
“The Animal Race” takes place in a once-picturesque Rio de Janeiro where the sea has receded and the city has further descended into chaos and misery. Slavery has been reinstated and the social divide has grown into a chasm. Instead of betting on a lottery, wealthy players bet on a race of people in animal masks who run across the city in a violent game where the loser can face death, or worse, become enslaved to the winning player. The drama turns on a racer, Mano, who is desperately trying to rescue his enslaved sister.
“It is good to remember that Brazil was the last country to officially abolish slavery and still keeps alive vestiges of this perverse social structure,” said Solis. “But making a futuristic fiction drama also comes from the will to extrapolate the limits of reality to build a fable, a visual allegory, pop and violent, without being afraid to think of cinema as a spectacle, as an exercise of illusion and fantasy,” he added.
Said Espinosa: “ ‘The Animal Race’ is a really ambitious project, and one that is organically Brazilian in form and content: we are extrapolating a real illegal lottery that supports illicit activities in Brazil today – the Animal Game – and using science fiction to reflect about the past and illuminate the present.”
“We could have no better team than those responsible for ‘City of God,’ and a true international collaboration between Ernesto and Klaver, who co-wrote the script with the aim of keeping true to Brazil while also satisfying international audiences,” he added.
Two-thirds of the pic’s funding has been covered by Brazilian incentives. In Cannes, the partners will be seeking the remaining one-third as well as partners for sales and distribution. Principal photography is targeted for late this year or early 2019.