Universal Pictures International (UPI) plans to release Jose Padilha's $5m Elite Squad in theatres throughout Latin America following the film's Golden Bear win at Berlin.

'We are presenting Elite Squad in main Latin American festivals to generate a media exposure for the film,' says Mauricio Durán, UPI VP for of marketing and distribution in Latin America. 'The Golden Bear confirms the pedigree of the film and give it a bigger potential.'

Elite Squad was the biggest domestic hit in Brazil last year, selling 2.4m tickets and grossing $11.9 (BRL 20.3m).

Overseas the film still has a chance to repeat the commercial success of Fernando Meirelles' City Of God, which grossed around $28m worldwide ($7.5m in North America alone).

While UPI has the rights in Latin America, the film will be distributed in rest of the world by The Weinstein Company (TWC). It was Harvey Weinstein who picked up City Of God for Miramax

'In the international market Elite Squad can be even bigger than City of God,' says Paulo Sergio Almeida, director of Filme B, a Brazilian company that reviews theatrical market numbers. 'City Of God's success can help Elite Squad, since both deal with the same subject matters and have a similar cinematography. Not to mention that Elite Squad already got the Golden Bear, and The Weinstein Company will probably explore really well all its controversy in the film campaign.'

The first foreign market for Elite Squad will be Colombia, where it will be presented at the Cartagena Film Festival (Feb 29-Mar 7) before a Mar 8 general release.

The film then goes to the Guadalajara Film Festical (Mar 7-19) before an April 4 release. Also in April the film will open in Argentina and, probably, via TWC, in North America.

The film opens June 19 in Chile and, in the same month, in Costa Rica, where it will be shown at Muestra de Cine y Video Costarricense festival.

According to UPI's tentative schedule, Elite Squad will hit screens in Panama in August, in Peru in September (after screening at the Lima Film Festival) and in Ecuador in November (after the Zero Latitude Film Festival in Quito).

Elite Squad also generated interest from pirates that hurt the film's box office and still may harm its released on DVD, scheduled for Feb 27. Specialists in Brazil believe that, without piracy, the film could have surpassed City Of God admissions, which totalled 3.3m in the country in 2002.

'Studies estimate that a pirate copy of the film was seen by 11.5m people even before it was in the theatres,' says Padilha.

Since its release in October, the film -- about underpaid officers who choose between becoming corrupt, neglectful or going to war -- has heated debates about the causes of violence and the legalisation of drugs across the country.

'The film is what it is. What may change with the award in Berlin is how people see it. But nobody can control that and I believe nothing is going to change in Brazil,' says Padilha.