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Brazil Incentives Dry Up, Strangling Film Production

Shine Your Eyes
Primo Filmes

A new apocalypse now haunts Brazilian cinema. It’s one in a string of such upheavals over the past year including an envisaged 43% cut to the 2020 budget of Ancine, Brazil’s huge film-TV agency and motor of movie funding, which is already grinding almost to a halt.

Producers are still waiting to receive approved incentives.

“There are several producers, including ourselves, who have projects that won support from the [Pernambuco] regional fund in 2017 and 2018, but never received it,” says Desvia producer Rachel Daisy Ellis (“Divine Love”).

Independent productions are being strangled by the freeze. “It’s bleeding cinema, it’s bleeding culture. There is a sense of doom, an anemia regarding culture and cinema,” says Karim Aïnouz, director of “Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmão.”

Now, Ancine is under threat of disappearing altogether.

On Feb. 19, a proposal will be voted on in congress that extinguishes existing public funds not ratified by the end of the year via the enactment of a constitutional amendment. One victim could be Brazil’s biggest source of state finance, the Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA).

Producers looking to secure Ancine funding are already obliged to indicate if their films include explicit sex or political themes, and their nature, viewed by many as a means of government censorship.

In December, former São Paulo secretary of culture André Sturm was appointed as audiovisual secretary for Bolsonaro’s regime. His selection must now be ratified by Brazil’s new culture minister, former telenovela actress and staunch Bolsonaro supporter Regina Duarte.

What survival strategies can producers employ in such circumstances?

The effective freeze looks set to accelerate the diaspora of film companies towards producing series or films for OTT platforms or broadcasters, says Felipe Braga, creator of two Netflix series, “¡Samantha!” and “Sintonia.”

“Thankfully companies like Amazon and Hulu are starting to arrive, and Globoplay is becoming a major player in this context, in which HBO and Netflix have been game-changers,” he adds.

Secondly, people will be looking for angel organizations such as Project Paradise, an initiative funded by the Brazilian philanthropy organization Olga Rabinovich institute, which supports 11 films at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

Other producers may turn to local or regional funds for backing. “Municipalities are pitching in, cities such as Niterói and São Paulo are releasing public resources for the local industry,” says writer-producer André Mielnik, who has Encounters entry “Los Conductos” and eight projects with him at this year’s EFM.

São Paulo’s Spcine, for instance, has provided financial support for four films at this year’s festival. The region saw a 96% increase in productions receiving backing between 2017 (28) and 2019 (61).

“Currently, the city of São Paulo represents 25% of all audiovisual productions in Brazil, has the second-largest film commission in Latin America which is responsible for more than a thousand films annually, and houses 1,537 production companies,” says Spcine president Laís Bodanzky.

Yet as Allis points out, FSA funding backing decentralized funds, accounting for two thirds of Pernambuco regional film funding, no longer exists.

The industry will likely become more dependent on European producers taking ever more muscular stakes in movies showcasing, ironically, Brazilian talent. The challenge, says producer-director Gustavo Steinberg ( “Tito and the Birds”) is that “everybody expects you to find money in your own country as well.”

Most likely, somewhat fewer films will get made, but at significantly lower average budgets.

“Needless to say, we will keep making films any way we can,” Ellis says. “But the situation massively undermines advances made in recent years in forging an industry in Brazil that reached all corners of the country, represented plural realities, promoted cultural diversity and acted as an important driver of regional economic and social development.”