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Braking the Brazilian Waves

On March 26, Apex, the state-run Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, announced that it was pulling key financing for Cinema do Brasil, Brazil’s private-sector equivalent of France’s trade body UniFrance.

With a new top management set to settle in at Apex from mid-May, film export org Cinema do Brasil may be pulled back from the brink, the government informing the org in late April that it would be interested in renewing Apex funding.

Cannes may not be CdB’s last market. Brazil’s left-leaning industry is light years away from President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government. Even so, according to Andre Sturm, CdB topper, the government recognizes that film gives a good image of Brazil abroad.

The Apex scare underscores the current volatility of Brazilian politics. Its resolution would reflect one of the biggest revolutions shaping cinema in this century: the dramatic development in world cinema production, of which Brazil is a prime example.

Founded in 2006 by Sao Paulo’s Audiovisual Industry Guild, Cinema do Brasil has facilitated, channeled and accelerated this development, as production rose from 84 Brazilian film releases in 2009 to 158 in 2017.

State funding tends to work when meshing with market trends or recognizing growing market demands. As the market for foreign-language film sales has toughened this decade, partly because of the higher number of titles competing for theatrical outlets abroad, in 2009 Cinema do Brasil launched a Distribution Support Program, offering to match foreign distributors’ P&A. It received eight requests that year, 60 in 2016, says Sturm, while 111 distributors, based out of 49 countries, have used it to date.

Cinema do Brasil also arranges co-production meetings between Brazil and other national delegations. Four are being prepared for this year’s Cannes. That again syncs with market trends.

“A first step was to persuade young producers of international market rewards, a second to put them with foreign producers to build mutual trust,” Sturm says.

As movie production levels have risen this century, producers have looked to make movies that could stand out in a crowd.

Brazil has co-produced as many movies internationally in the past 10 years as in the 40 years prior, says Sturm. Revenues from Brazilian films’ international co-production investment and film sales stands at $150 million over the last 12 years, he adds.

“Having six Brazilian films in Cannes is a very meaningful and very concrete demonstration that Brazil’s audiovisual market has been advancing internationally, building important commercial and artistic ties with international markets,” adds Fabiano Gullane, producer of “The Traitor.”

Brazil’s international outreach may also have a generational explanation. “Brazil’s youth regards the audiovisual and creative economy sectors as important career options,” says Gullane. Only medicine is now a more popular university option than audiovisual, he says.

For centuries, Brazil remained isolated by its Portuguese language. Young Brazilians see a connection with the international world as part of a modern national identity. Three of the six movies from Brazilian producers selected for Cannes are directed by non-Brazilians: Americans Robert Eggers (“The Lighthouse”) and Danielle Lessovitz (“Port Authority”) and most obviously Italy’s Marco Bellocchio (“The Traitor”). The director of a fourth, Karim Aïnouz (“The Invisible Life”), lives part of the year in Berlin. Young Alice Furtado, who made Directors’ Fortnight entry “Sick, Sick, Sick,” studied in Paris and was mentored by Claire Denis.

“It would have been simply impossible to have made ‘The Traitor’ 10 years ago,” says Sturm.

Brazil’s international surge is unlikely to stop now. “The next frontier in the internationalization of national talent should be based on Brazilian intellectual property, and its access to the global market,” says Felipe Braga at Losbragas, which is focusing ever more on exploring emerging local voices — mostly young blood with fresh narratives that belong to the world — and exporting them as fiction formats.

“For us this is another way of being truly cosmopolitan, not only artistically, but industry-wise.”

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