Hector Babenco's prisondrama Carandiru has become thehighest grossing Brazilian film of all time in its home territory according tolocal distributor Columbia TriStar.

In terms of admissions, it hasjust overtaken 1989's family smash Princesa Xuxa E Os Trapalhoes which attracted 4.018m moviegoers.

As of June 1, 2003, Carandiru has raked in $9,053,066 (REAL 27,160,220) and scored 4.109m admissions since itsdebut on April 11. The film is still playing on 261 screens. Sony PicturesClassics holds the US domestic rights while Columbia TriStar Film DistributorsInternational owns rights in the rest of the world.

Carandiru is estimated to end its run with 4.5m to 4.7madmissions, still a far cry from Bruno Barreto's Dona Flor And Her TwoHusbands in 1975 which drew 10.7madmissions. However, market conditions were vastly different in Brazil duringthe 1970s when there were more than 3,000 screens as opposed to the estimated1,700 currently in operation.

The drama's unprecedentedsuccess can be partly attributed to Columbia TriStar Brazil's lavish P&Acampaign which cost $1.2m (REAL 3.5m). It also had the backing of mediajuggernaut Globo which co-producedthe film.

Globo contributed televisionspots and cross merchandising on its leading television programmes.These included incorporating the filmin scripts of some of their wildlypopular soaps (telenovelas) where the actors would talk of plans to see themovie.

Blanket news coverageincluded a five-minute feature on top Sunday TV magazine programme Fantastico, radio interviews with thecast and prominent newspaper articles in their leading daily newspaper, JornalNacional.

Columbia TriStar also tookcare to screen the film in less affluent neighborhoods where the drama is stillplaying strongest. "Carandiruhas brought people back to the cinema; some people who have not gone to atheatre in years are now trooping back to see it," said Columbia TriStarsales manager Andre Sala.

The film is an adaptation ofnon-fiction best seller Carandiru Station by Dr Drauzio Varella, who was Babenco's oncologist when he contractedlymphatic cancer. The film weaves together several stories from Sao Paolo'sinfamous Carandiru prison as seenthrough the eyes of Dr Varella who worked at the penitentiary for 12 years as an AIDS doctor. Carandiru played in competition at Cannes last month to mixedreviews.