RIO DE JANEIRO — The 21st Rio Intl. Film Fest opens Monday Dec. 9t with the screening of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” in the Odeon landmark theater. The smaller than usual edition, which was almost cancelled due to the lack of municipal backing, reflects the crisis of Brazil’s film sector, involved in a battle with the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.
The once largest film fest in Latin America will feature this year about 100 international features, down from some 350 in the last fully sponsored edition in 2016. The recession that hit Brazil in 2015 and mainly politics explain the downsizing. Rio’s mayor Marcelo Crivella, a “bishop” of the fundamentalist Universal Church of God’s Kingdom elected in 2016, withdrew City Hall’s long-standing sponsorship for the fest in the 2017 edition.
Federal government shifted from left to cut-spending right, and government bank BNDES cut the fest sponsorship as of the 2018 edition, while state-owned Petrobras withdrew its sponsorship of this year’s edition.
When fest organizers announced mid this year the event, which was scheduled for the end of September, was cancelled, a web crowdfunding campaign was launched and raised 627,000 reals (US$149,000). The mobilization in favor of one of Rio’s most important events was joined by a number of private companies, which allowed organizers to put together this compact edition. Rio Fest director Ilda Santiago would not disclose this year’s budget, but said it is just a fraction of the US$1 million necessary for a full event.
“Looking at the bright side, the December date allowed us to offer the premieres in Brazil of prospectove Oscar films, such as “Little Woman,” “Bombshell,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Les Misérables,” “A Hidden Life,” “Richard Jewell, and Judy,” said Santiago.
She also emphasized the strong lineup of local features in competition, which includes Lirio Ferreira’s “Acqua Movie,” Maya Da-Rin’s Locarno winner “The Fever,” Heitor Dhalia’s “Anna,” Eryk Rocha’s “Burning Night,” Hilton Lacerda’s “Party Over,” Jeferson De’s “M8,” Marcos Prado’s “Macabre,” Renato Barbieri’s “Pureza – The Movie,” and Sandra Kogut’s “Three Summers.”
For many analysts, the crisis at Rio Fest marks just a prelude of one that will engulf the whole film and indie TV sector. Some expect a repetition of the 1990 crisis, when the federal government shut down its production and distribution company Embrafilme, destroying a prosperous film industry. With the gradual creation of incentives, the film industry grew rapidly from zero pics bowing in 1991 to 30 in 2001 and an impressive 167 in 2018.
The production sector surged and diversified its output, increasingly making TV shows, particularly series for pay-TV channels and now streaming platforms. Driven by a 2011 regulation establishing quotas for local programing on pay-TV channels, the total number of CPBs (certificates) for airing series grew from 200 in 2011 to 717 in 2018, according to the National Cinema Agency (Ancine).
Much of the production boom is due to the Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA), covering the development, production and distribution of films and indie TV shows, which accounts for about two thirds of Ancine’s fund releases. But the funding lines of FSA for the 2019 and part of 2018 have still not been launched, because the Bolsonaro administration, which took over on Jan , 2019, only named a FSA managing committee in October.
Disbursements of FSA, which has US$160 million to be adjudicated, have been limited to projects from previous funding rounds, and even so made at a slower than usual pace. Many production companies have started to downsize, several have shut down, others are surviving thanks to commissions of Netflix.
The total number of Brazilian movie theatrical releases will decline in 2019, a trend expected to continue over the next years.
On one side, almost the entire artistic community raised their voice against a government they consider to be fascist, anti-culture, and pro-censorship, “Trump’s poodle,” and eager to impose conservative and fundamentalist religious views on art.
On the other, government officials accuse the artistic community of abusing incentive systems. They argue that taxpayers’ money should fund films appealing to the majority of the population, not to what they deem are a handful of intellectuals.
“The production sector is at war with the government, and vice-versa. It will be difficult to make peace. We risk losing everything we built up over the past 20 years,” said Paulo Sergio Almeida, film director and CEO of film marketing company Filme B.