Brazilian producers are fighting to find ways to get a national audiovisual industry crippled by a funding freeze back on its feet after the soaring number of Covid-19 cases has further compounded problems.
As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the country and throws an already embattled Brazilian film industry into deeper turmoil after national film agency Ancine ceased funding in January 2019, the ongoing health crisis is scaring off international partners.
“Before the pandemic started it was easy to find international coproduction companies interested in our projects in development,” said Beto Amaral, the producer of Daniela Thomas’ films, whose Berlinale 2017 selection Vazante was a co-production with Portugal.
“Now we are on hold,” added Amaral, who is looking to European companies to co-produce Thomas’ next film, Manu, budgeted at $900,000. So far the producer has secured only $45,000 to tell the story of corruption in the Brazilian political system seen through the eyes of a teenager.
According to estimates from the audiovisual sector, between 400 to 600 films and Brazilian TV projects have stalled, awaiting release of funds. There has been practically no filming in the last 12 months, except for Susana Garcia’s Minha Mãe é Uma Peça 3 (My Mom Is A Character 3).
The third part in a successful franchise that has in its entirety earned $68m (BRL 350m) at the box office the film was co-produced by Midgal Filmes, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Globo Filmes.
“In the case of auteur films, they are on the verge of death without any new incentive policy,” noted Andrea Barata Ribeiro, a partner in Fernando Meirelles’ O2 Filmes. “Producers who have projects contemplated in 2018 have not yet received anything.
With several projects affected, such as the thriller Pssica, the debut film by Quico Meirelles, son of Fernando Meirelles, O2 survives by making series for different platforms and advertising campaigns.
“The breakdown of small producers is already happening. Twenty years of incentives to the audiovisual industry are being thrown away. There is a clear desire to dismantle culture. The current government is against free culture,” said Ribeiro, referring to the far-right administration of Jair Bolsonaro.
Ancine did not respond to Screen’s request for a comment, however the agency attributes its operational collapse to an accounting error, which would have left Ancine unable to honour the projects under consideration. Although it has made investment commitments totaling 185m (BRL 944m), the financial resources of the Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA) amount to only $144m (BRL 738m).
Attracting money from overseas could save local producers. In the case of the city of Sao Paulo, the idea is to offer a cash rebate policy for international productions, which would need to be associated with Brazilian companies.
Until the end of the year, registrations will be open for the programme designed to attract projects with a minimum local spend of $392,000 (BRL 2m). The producers will be reimbursed between 20%-30% of the total amount spent in feature films, animations, series and advertising campaigns shot entirely or partially in Sao Paulo.
Last year, the city hosted 1,077 productions from other states and other countries, which generated more than 25,000 jobs and $110m (BRL 561m) in declared budgets.
With soaring Covid-19 infection levels across Brazil, the question is can Sao Paulo expect international producers to travel after the Bolsonaro government’s mismanagement of the health crisis has tarnished the country’s reputation.
“There is no doubt about the international impact caused by the current situation in Brazil,” said filmmaker Lais Bodanzky, president of Spcine, the company created in 2013 to develop and implement public audiovisual policies for the city. “Therefore, we clarify that the city of Sao Paulo has a specific reality, not corresponding to the speech of the federal government.”
Despite Bolsonaro’s government guidelines, each state in Brazil has autonomy in terms of health protocols, including decisions about mandatory quarantines.
Currently the city of Sao Paulo is preparing itself to enter the so-called “green phase” of its reopening programme. Among the criteria for the transition from yellow to the green is that the occupancy rate of hospital beds must drop below 60%
After reopening restaurants, bars, fitness centres and hair salons in the city, cinemas will follow. The reopening of is scheduled for August 13, although films have not yet been chosen or announced.
“The idea is to test the waters with small films from local independent distributors,” said Paulo Sergio Almeida, director of Filme B, a local theatrical tracking firm that compiles the figures.
There are about 40 Brazilian films ready that could be part of the new programming. Among them are Julia Rezende’s Depois a Louca Sou Eu (Losing My Marbles, pictured), Rene Sampaio’s Eduardo e Monica, Halder Gomes’ Cabras da Peste, Marcos Prado’s Macabro, and Pedro Peregrino’s A Suspeita.
But Almeida does not know whether these films are suitable given the crisis the industry faces. “It needs to be something with real market force,” he said, “since the audiences will not risk their lives or spend any money without being convinced that they absolutely cannot miss that film in the cinemas.”