Led by “Bacurau,” directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, and Marco Bellocchio’s “The Traitor,” both playing Cannes competition, Brazil has five movies selected for this year’s Cannes, seven if including Acid, the best result in living memory. It also makes Brazil Cannes’ fourth-biggest national cinema presence, after France (46 productions), the U.S. (11) and Belgium (nine).
One more title can be partly chalked up to Brazil: Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” produced by Rodrigo Teixeira at Sao Paulo-based RT Features, which, extraordinarily enough, also has “The Invisible Life” and “Port Authority” in Un Certain Regard.
Yet most of these selections came on April 18, the same day that Christian de Castro, head of Brazil’s all-powerful film-TV agency head Ancine, recommended staff to halt new and recently approved incentive awards, in a memorandum leaked to the press.
Ancine contributes some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film-TV industries.
The bombshell came in response to a long-term probe into Ancine, dating back to at least 2017, by Brazil’s Tribunal de Contas da Uniao (TCU), its government accountability office. It charges Ancine with inadequate accounting procedures that have left 3,000 financing applications still to be processed.
On March 27, the TCU recommended Ancine to halt funding.
Semi state-owned Brazilian oil company Petrobras, the film industry’s biggest corporate sponsor for two decades, has also ceased financing Brazilian film productions and top festivals.
Michel Temer, Brazil’s former president, and successor Jair Bolsonaro, have both failed to renew a screen quota obliging local theaters to run national movies. The results were seen last month when “Avengers: Endgame” opened in Brazil taking 94% of the box office share.
The Ancine subsidy stoppage was greeted with huge alarm.
“There has never been an action as contrary to the interests of the local production as this one,” says Simoni de Mendonça, president of the Sao Paulo Audiovisual Union.
One week later, Ancine appeared to have pulled back from the edge. At the Rio Creative Conference on April 26, Castro said he was “confident” incentives would be fully operational the following week.
“The idea was not to freeze the operation. On the contrary, we wanted to keep Ancine going by freezing specific aspects of the operation,” he told Variety.
At least by May 1, however, that had not happened, with the TCU appearing to suggest it could suspend its probe and most certainly creating confusion by asking why Ancine had halted new subsidy adjudications.
Castro, a well-respected former banker and film financier, is said to be close to Brazil’s Paulo Guedes, a technocrat from the finance world who is unconcerned with Bolsonaro‘s culture war against the arts. Brazil’s film industry takes that to heart. But it still fears Brazilian film and TV support will be dismantled piece by piece.
“Brazil has always looked to the future as a promise and target. Cannes’ Brazilian cinema presence and Brazil’s industry numbers show us the future’s arrived,” says “Traitor” producer Fabiano Gullane. “What needs to be done at this historic moment is not to tear everything from before down and start over, but to look to our past, correct the mistakes and make adjustments to move ahead.”
By the Cannes Festival, Ancine funding may have seen some resolution or a reigning lack of visibility may be clearer.
Even if re-established, the incentive shock paints a larger picture, however.
Incentives in Europe are handled by individual E.U. member states because cinema is regarded as national culture. Launched in 2001, Ancine took that cultural imperative on board. One financing line, for example, prizes films of “artistic innovation and relevance.”
The result has been an extraordinary flowering of a largely director-driven industry, made by highly cine-literate filmmakers, often exploring social or gender issues, but with large breadth, international reach and recourse to Hollywood entertainment tropes.
“Bacurau,” for instance, is a Brazilian Western and sci-fi adventure; “The Traitor” is a biopic of the first mafia boss turncoat; “Invisible Life” was announced by director Karim Aïnouz as period “classic melodrama,” tracing two sisters’ life destinies. Fruit of a production joint venture between RT Features and Martin Scorsese’s Sikelia Prods. to produce emerging talent, Danielle Lessovitz’s “Port Authority” is a New York-set LGBT romance; playing Directors’ Fortnight, “Sick, Sick, Sick” employs supernatural horror genre beats to capture adolescent angst.
Yet cultural questions hardly impress right-wing governments. Forced to react to the Ancine stoppage, Brazil’s trade bodies have naturally argued economic imperatives. “This situation is very serious and puts in risk thousands of jobs,” warns Leonardo Edde, president of Brazil’s Audiovisual Industry Union.
In an increasingly OTT world, the largest economic imperative, however, is the talent and artistic ambition of creative filmmakers and drama series show-runners. Film nurtures its emergence. That risks being lost in Brazil.