Vastly underscreened Brazil is poised to take a quantum leap into the digital age.

A fledgling local company, Rain Networks, plans to transform 100 existing independent screens in Brazil into digital screens by spring next year. In Rio de Janeiro alone, the city is planning to build 50 new screens equipped with both digital and traditional 35 mm formats.

Rain Networks has developed the exclusive Kinocast system of digital distribution and exhibition that makes use of the compression technology of Microsoft Windows Media-9. Aside from allowing the direct exhibition of films shot on digital video, the system will allow for the transmission of films via the more secure intranet, bypassing the use of prints, which cost distributors an average of $1,500 in Brazil.

Rain Networks was set up by Brazil's Grupo Mega, which owns leading postproduction studio Estudios Mega, film lab Mega Color and record label, Indie Records. Rain Networks is in joint venture talks with Los Angeles-based Digital Cinema Solutions (DCS), which has developed a similar system, according to Rain Chief Operating Officer Flavio Lima.

The city of Rio de Janeiro is in talks with Rain Networks to equip its new screens, which it hopes to erect by the end of summer 2004. Local distributor Rio Filmes, headed by Jose Wilker, spearheads the plan. According to Wilker, Rio Filmes has a library of 160 Brazilian titles that it plans to transform into the digital format.

These new digital screens will greatly benefit local filmmakers who are faced with exorbitant post-production costs. Brazil has some 1700 screens serving a population of an estimated 170 million.