The 14th Rio International Film Festival kicks off today with a balanced mix of international titles with homegrown features and shorts. The heart of the festival, however, will always be the Première Brasil programme, the only competitive section.

As in every year, this edition will be a showcase of the most-anticipated local films, which will be screened at the historic Odeon Petrobras cinema in downtown Rio de Janeiro.

12 fiction features will be in competition, including the world premieres of Marcos Bernstein’s My Sweet Orange Tree, Philippe Barcinski’s Between Valleys and Luiz Bolognesi’s Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury.

My Sweet Orange Tree [pictured] is the second feature directed by Marcos Bernstein, who co-wrote Central Station, the movie that launched Walter Salles internationally in the late ’90s.

After directing The Other Side of the Street, in 2004, Bernstein tells now the story of a six year old boy who lives in a fantasy world and see a tree as his great confidant.

Based on a successful children’s book (translated into 16 languages ​​and published in 19 countries), the film has already been bought by countries such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, Korea, Thailand and Turkey.

“Première Brasil has become over the years one of the most important showcases of national cinema. Not only to Brazil but also to other countries, which send their festivals and press representatives to Rio,’’ says Bernstein.

 Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury is the first feature of Luiz Bolognesi, screenwriter of Birdwatchers (2008) and Brainstorm (2001). While narrating a love story of 600 years, the animated film highlights four stages in the history of Brazil: colonization, slavery, the military regime and the future, in 2096, when presumably there will be a war over water.

Première Brasil also offers audiences the chance to catch up with Philippe Barcinski, most known for Not By Chance (2007). His new film, Between Valleys, is a drama about an economist who needs to reinvent himself after suffering losses in his life. The drama is produced by Fernando Meirelles’ 02 Filmes.

Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Neighboring Sounds reaches Rio after being awarded in Holland, Denmark and Poland. Set in a prime residential area of Recife, the plot ingeniously weaves together the lives of several residents of one street, where a team of private security guards has been employed.

It is a chronicle of modern life, which embraces all social classes (and especially how they relate to each other), presenting a portrait not only of Recife, but also Brazil in the post-economic boom.

“After nine months showing the film on the international circuit, Rio is the perfect platform to present Neighboring Sounds to Brazilian audiences,’’ says Mendonca Filho, winner of Fipresci prizes in Rotterdam and in Wrocław and of the Grand Prix CPH PIX in Copenhagen.

The festival, which will screen around 350 films from over 60 countries, runs from Sept 27 to Oct 11.