Brazil’s World Cinema: How are co-productions impacting Brazilian cinema reaction?

Brazil’s World Cinema: How are co-productions impacting Brazilian cinema reaction?

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The Brazilian Cinema landscape

Brazilian cinema market tendencies show a favourable environment for movies with great public appeal. Productions related to the experimentative, thought-provoking Nouvelle Vague during the end of the 20th century, which was represented in Brazil by the Cinema Novo film movement, gave place to a new sort of productions, closer to the blockbuster approach.[1] Regardless of their individual subjects, these movies have gained the audience by making use of tension-building storytelling, visual effects and dramatic music with the primary aim of offering emotional experiences and less of a debate.

This is particularly notable analysing the Brazilian top-10 movies in terms of box office success.[2] Looking at the most recent ones (2005 to 2017) there are four such movies.[3] The biggest Brazilian box office success to this date, “Os Dez Mandamentos – O Filme” (2016), which is a literal representation of the well-known biblical principles of the Ten Commandments, is an over-dramatization of the epic overusing music and visual effects. The movie maintains a simple narrative, relying on the gimmicky superfluous and religious characteristics to hold its success.

Another example is the sequel to José Padilha’s “Tropa de Elite” (2007), “Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora é Outro” (2010). Following the good receptions of his prequel, Padilha intends to make the State itself the new villain, contrasting with the first movie where they fight against the threat of Organized Crime in the favelas. According to the director, the public got the wrong idea of heroism related to the protagonist, the controversial Military Police Captain Nascimento.[4]The sequel movie, however, used the same genre formula of quick cuts, action cameras and rush sensation, focusing on the drama from the protagonists’ perspective, diverting from the reflection Padilha wanted the audience to have from outside the war.

These films are two examples of Brazilian blockbusters that are dominating the national cinema market. However, smaller productions, that focused more on an experimentative and critical approach, are still a vehicle for Brazilian directors. By 2018, Brazil set a record of 185 movie premieres, as shown by the Ministry of Justice parental rating and subject reports. Of those, 3.2% focused on LGBTQ+ guidelines and 2.7% of environmental subjects. Despite the majority treating more “conservative” themes like family stories (10.8%), relationships (16.2%) and biographies of historical figures (10.2%), alternative films were still produced and fighting for their market space in the country.[5]

It is possible to see that Brazil’s cinema environment permits a quite diverse production in terms of subject. However, a short explanation on the market structure could be useful for the following analyses. The country has a strong private sector related to national media groups, such as Globo Filmes and Record Filmes. The capacity of financing, structure for production, budget and contracts with consolidated actors favors them in terms of their sustainability in making the movies like the ones described in the beginning of this section. They also are able to touch subjects in the much more popular TV’s works, like the brazilian novels and sitcoms.

The more experimentative and critical approach movies are often related to independent studios and filmmakers. As they usually face difficulties to access private financing, they rely on the strong public financing programs developed in the country during the 1990s and 2000s, based on sponsoring from national companies which receive tax incentives. They also tend to find their way into the international cinema circuit, which may guarantee more funding and projection abroad.

In both cases, there is one national institution that regulates it all, which is the National Cinema Agency (ANCINE). Founded in 2001, the agency is responsible for regulating the productions, it’s available data and local distribution at movie theatres. It also keeps track of the production’s financing, even with foreign funding. But most important, ANCINE is the State stance that evaluates and distributes the public funds for national cinema based on the country’s funding politics. The main source is named Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual (FSA), which gathers the investment of national companies previously referred. In other words, it has a great whole on the independent studios, as they still need to look for international funding to finance their productions.[6]

These productions have a strong bond with the German World Cinema Fund (WCF), an important source for Brazilian independent film to counteract its commercial competitors. Therefore, we aim to understand more of how foreign producers relate to alternative, independent and critical cinema in the country, productions that contrast with the blockbuster movies that usually focus on fast-paced, entertainment content. Firstly, we will explore the financing dynamics of producing with support of the WCF as German producers to then analyse three movies, which had a WFC participation, and compare them to other productions of similar subjects with a more commercial profile.[7] This comparison aims to identify the differences regarding the approach on the subject rather than the subject itself. Further, this article argues that funds like the WFC can be seen as a viable and alternative way for Brazilian world cinema to keep disputing national market space.

 

Behind the scenes of World Cinema

The term World Cinema (here also referred to it as alternative cinema) in this article refers to the categorization, mainly introduced and first implemented by Film Festivals, of films that originate in regions around the world outside of big studio productions (i.e. Hollywood). The term is used to identify films as arthouse, independent films or films made by internationally renowned directors.[8] These films are primarily categorized by geo-political factors and often presented by film festivals by their nationality almost as a film sub-genre. [9]

The film industry is both an economic and a political matter. Despite the controverse discussion, whether film should be positioned as an entertainment product or a cultural good, most filmmakers in countries that do not have a major studio-based industry like the U.S. rely on financing through public funds and subsidies to produce their films. This is the case in regions like Latin America and Europe, which, while being significantly different regions with different cultural and artistic expressions, have a similar film funding structure.[10] Through the last decades both regions have created policies that work on national and regional levels to spend public money in film production and incentivise co-productions between the regions’ member states, aiming to promote the regions’ audio-visual identity while preserving its cultural diversity.[11]

Producers, once acquired a story or idea, embark on a journey of fundraising and finding potential partners to secure financing for their film. For unconventional productions or movies that are not part of the blockbuster segment this becomes challenging. The cultural and artistic value of these movies is usually high, but investment is risky. Here is where public funds come into place. Furthermore, during the last decades, several international funding initiatives emerged in Europe, partly initiated by film festivals, with the objective of funding projects from countries of the Global South that lack an established film industry.[12] This way, filmmakers from developing countries could apply for these funds and international cooperation would emerge. Well known initiatives of this kind are, for example, the Hubert Bals Fund in The Netherlands and the WCF in Germany.[13] For Brazil, in times when public subsidies in critical sectors like culture and arts are being held back, this international aid has become essential.

Films are a reflection of a society, its culture and its values, of a nations’ identity. The WCF is a German fund for film financing, intended to support the production of films in countries with a weak film industry where filmmakers strive to get movies produced or films that are often not considered commercially viable.[14] This fund allows German producers to become partners of films from abroad. Between 2004 and 2017, more than 180 projects could successfully be implemented in cooperation between Europe and Latin America (among other regions) through this fund.[15]

While the Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual in Brazil destined R$162.5 million (about 36.1 million Euro) to support national films in 2016, many Brazilian movies won’t reach the audience volume as much as blockbusters do.[16] International liaisons are therefore vital for films that emerge in weak or polarized industry conditions: they give regional narratives a greater chance of outreach. Apart from a financial contribution – which often meets only a fraction of the total budget of a film – the impact of these international funds gains further importance regarding the mobility of the film, facilitating, to a certain extent, market and festival opportunities that a funded film will have and raising its chances to be distributed among wider audiences.[17]

Nevertheless, distributing world cinema remains difficult, since movie theatres often prioritize the exhibition of blockbusters. The recognition that films acquire from the funding initiatives and prominent festival exhibitions, becomes a potential tool to secure some kind of distribution abroad and in their country of origin – although it often remains limited.

For a German producer, getting on board on a production funded by the WCF means to not only immerse in a different culture but to shine light on essential problematics or topics that deserve greater visibility around the globe and that can be mirrored elsewhere. In this sense, cinema can be a tool to connect worlds. Many of the topics in films co-produced by Germany’s WCF during the last decade revolve around society, women’s identity, migration and political matters, creating a mosaic of perspectives.[18]

In this article, we analyse how international partnerships can make alternative productions reach broader audiences. With that, filmmakers can have different approaches to some subjects rather than depending on commercially viable ones, especially within fragile film production ecosystems. In the following section we highlight the narratives and artistic perspectives that differentiate the approaches of each film and that are directly reflected on its audience reach.

 

Analysis of the movies

As objects of study, among the list of Brazilian movies with more than half-million of sold tickets, we chose works with subjects that have already been on the country’s big screens, so we could have a comparison of how the same topic would be approached by an alternative cinema. The alternative movies we selected for this analysis are Kiko Goifman’s “Atos dos Homens” and Karim Aïnouz’s “O céu de Suely”, both from 2006, and Maria Augusta Ramos’ “O Processo”, released in 2018, which all have received the financial support from the WCF.

Goifman’s motion, “Atos dos Homens”, is about a common public agenda and frequent issue approached by Brazilian cinema: violence in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It has been the main topic of the globally known movie “Cidade de Deus” by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund from 2002 and Paulo Morelli’s “Cidade dos homens” from 2007, also gaining a franchise in José Padilha’s “Tropa de Elite” from 2006 and 2012. In all these movies, the producers aimed to create the atmosphere of “constant tension” formerly discussed. With quick-cut scenes, cameras following running chases, heated colour pallets focusing on the region’s warm climate and moments in which the audience is put on one of the sides of a gun are some of the reasons these movies are successful in giving the audience the anxious sensation of being in the scene. As the public is deep inside the action sequences, it gets harder to gain an objective outside perspective on what that violence really represents.

However, Goifman uses a different approach. Instead of showing the exact acts of violence, he focuses on the impact on the local populations’ daily life.[19] He tries to show the perceptions concerning the violence of the 2005 Queimados massacre of the survivors themselves.[20] The movie contains a series of interviews with local people from the affected micro society, like community radio station editors or former police officers outside their workplace. The documentary explains how that community fears the presence of the police, since they perceive that officers use their beneficiary position to instrumentalize the law as a tool for their needs, working above it. As reviewed by Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest journal by 2006,[21] by 2006, Goifman’s work had already stated that his “challenge is to go beyond the accusation, to provoke without cheap sensationalism”. In other words, he aims to activate a critical bond in the audiences regarding the victims of the structural violence instead of approaching it with a more commercially appealing way.[22]

Aïnouz’ “O Céu de Suely”, touches a similar subject as César Rodrigues’ franchise “Minha Mãe é uma Peça” (2013): mother and son’s abandonment by the husband. Rodrigues’ franchise, which holds fourth place in the nationally most watched Brazilian movies list,[23] clearly approaches the subject with an extravagant and comic tone, showing the ascension of an abandoned mother – portrayed by a man – into a wealthy and successful TV host.

The director chose to approach this social issue quite differently, as he portrays the protagonist Hermilas’ decision to prostitute herself to earn money in order to be able to raise her son. Hermila returns to her hometown to meet with her son’s father, not knowing that he had left her. The scenario differs strongly from Rodrigues’ middle-to-upper class environment in Rio de Janeiro, showing a small town, typical for Brazil’s countryside with its endemic poverty. In a counterpoint to Rodrigues’ motion, Aïnouz depicts the violent reactions of her family and the local population of the protagonist’s hometown on her supposedly indecent behaviour. The movie portrays this issue with a realistic atmosphere, bringing the difficulties that women in Hermila’s situation encounter in the conservative Brazilian society to the screen.

Ramos’ documentary “O Processo” from 2018, is about the impeachment of former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff 2016. The movie chose to approach a specific time-framed event in contrast to the movies about more general social issues formerly discussed (like urban violence or mother and son abandonment). Hereby, it becomes part of and influences the ongoing impeachment narrative debate, strongly contributing to confirming the coup d’état nature of the removal.[24] Even if there is other media on a similar topic, like Marcelo Antunez 2017 “Polícia Federal: a lei é para todos” or José Padilha’s 2018 Netflix series “O Mecanismo”, this documentary is the first cinema approach on the Impeachment affair. Purely an aggregate of images of the Brazilian Congress during the rite of impeachment, it assumes a critical approach that shows the lack of a fair defence for the former president.[25] [26] Also, it indicates that all main characters were aware that they were in a marked cards game at the backstage of the legislative debates, since the arguments from Rousseff’s defence were shortly, if at all, debated by the opposition. It is remarkable how the law used to accuse Rousseff was softened by her opposition in the following Congress section as a demand by the president in term, Temer.[27] [28] It is also arguable that since that year the unfolding events pointed in a direction that puts a question mark on the legitimacy of the process.[29]

 

Conclusion

As reviewed above, film producers who work with the WCF have an interest in financing smaller, more challenging productions with the purpose of spreading content that differs from commercially attractive narratives. Brazilian directors and productions, as observed, use this opportunity to approach subjects related to rather conservative beliefs still present in the Brazilian population in an alternative manner. The result are movies with counternarratives that give the audience a chance to reflect on those same issues from a different angle, be it a critical vision of Rio de Janeiro’s constant urban violence issue, a less superficial take on the male family figure abandonment issue or a backstage narrative of a political crisis. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that European funds like the WCF play a key role in maintaining a critical, alternative way of filmmaking in Brazil, with huge importance for the independent film sector.

All three WCF funded films that were analysed in this article were released on renown international film festivals. To some degree, the participation of the World Cinema Fund has contributed to the outreach of the films and probably strengthened the development of subsequent audiovisual works by the directors. Several German production companies that engaged in the production of films through WCF financing continued producing international films or include international production in their main activities.[30] However, the question remains if this film financing model alone is a sustainable model for German based companies and whether contributing to its sustainability is the duty of the World Cinema Fund.

For future works, it might also be interesting to consider whether developing film industries are critically dependent on international funding for financing or if this is an intrinsic part of the industry dynamics in today’s globalized movie sector.[31]

 

Endnotes

[1] Cousins, M. (2013). História do Cinema. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, pp. 328-436.

[2] OCA/Ancine (2018). Cinema. https://oca.ancine.gov.br/cinema. (14 June 2018).

[3] 2005 was selected as a “first” year because the oldest movie that we will analyse is from 2006.

[4] Trip, R. (2015). Planos de Fuga. https://revistatrip.uol.com.br/trip/jose-padilha-fala-sobre-hollywood-cinema-a-serie-narcos-e-o-brasil. (14 June 2018).

[5] Globo, O (2019). Levantamento mostra diversidade dos 185 filmes brasileiros lançados em 2018. Grupo Globo (04 August 2019).  https://oglobo.globo.com/cultura/levantamento-mostra-diversidade-dos-185-filmes-brasileiros-lancados-em-2018-23853388 (19 July 2020).

[6] Canclini, N. G. (2019). Culturas Híbridas. São Paulo: EDUSP and Marson, M. I. (2006). O Cinema da Retomada: Estado e cinema no Brasil da dissolução da Embrafilme à criação da Ancine. Campinas: Unicamp.

[7] In this article, we refer to ‘commercial attractiveness’ of a film as movies that are considered blockbusters and have a significant occupation in major movie theatres.

[8] Hoefert de Turégano, T. (2002) Transnational Cinematic Flows: World Cinema as World Music. Media in Transition, 2: pp. 3. For comparison, also see definition of Festival Film in chapter by Falicov T. (2016) ‘The Festival Film’: Film Festivals as Cultural Intermediaries. In Marijke de Valck, Brendan Kredell, and Skadi Loist (eds.) (2016) Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice, Routledge, pp. 212-215

[9] Stephen Crofts cited in Campos, M. (2018). Lo (trans) nacional como eje del circuito de festivales de cine. Una aproximación histórica al diálogo Europa-América Latina. Imagofagia, (17), pp. 14-15.

[10] For an understanding of the film funding landscape in Latin America see chapter by Shaw, L., Duno-Gottberg, L., Page, J. and Sánchez Prado, I. M. (2017). National Cinemas (Re)ignited – Film and the state in D’Lugo, M., López, A. M., & Podalsky, L. (Eds.). (2017). The Routledge Companion to Latin American Cinema. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 44-59; for an overview of film funding policy in the European Union see chapters by Kolokytha, O., and Sarikakis, K. (2018). Film Governance in the EU: Caught in a Loop? and Ferri, D. (2018) Film Funding Law in the European Union: Discussing the Rationale and Reviewing the Practice, both in: Murschetz, P. et al (eds.) (2018). Handbook of State Aid for Film. Cham: Springer, pp. 67-82, 211-226.

[11] The film funding programme Programa Ibermedia in Latin America and Eurimages in the European Union, for instance, are comparable funding measures.

[12] See chapter by Falicov, T. (2010). Migrating from South to North: The Role of Film Festivals in Funding and Shaping Global South Film and Video. In: Elmer, G. et al. (eds.) (2010) Locating Migrating Media. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, pp. 3-21.

[13] The Hubert Bals Fund (operating since 1988) is an initiative from the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), while the World Cinema Fund is the funding initiative from the Berlinale. Other film funds of this kind are the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde from the CNC in France (Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée) or the Visions Sud Est Fund from Switzerland.

[14] Web-presence of the WCF: https://www.berlinale.de/en/world-cinema-fund/home/profile.html (14 June 2018).

[15] World Cinema Fund (2018). Summary booklet World Cinema Fund supported films 2004 – 2017, published by the WCF initiative.

[16] ANCINE, Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual, RELATÓRIO DE GESTÃO DO FUNDO SETORIAL DO AUDIOVISUAL, EXERCÍCIO DE 2016. P. 21.

[17] As a comparison, an analysis of the effects of the Hubert Bals Fund can be found in Miriam Ross’ article of 2011, The film festival as producer: Latin American Films and Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund. Screen52(2), pp. 261-267.

[18] World Cinema Fund (2018) Summary booklet World Cinema Fund supported films 2004 – 2017, published by the WCF initiative.

[19] Estado, A. (2005). Kiko Goifman exibe trecho de novo documentário. Estado de São Paulo.

[20] When 29 locals were killed by a group of corrupted police officers unsatisfied with corruption combat measures taken by their new superiors back then

[21] ANJBR. (2006). Os maiores jornais do Brasil de circulação paga, por ano. www.anj.org.br/maiores-jornais-do-brasil/ (14 June 2018).

[22] Hamburguer, E.(2006)  Atos dos Homens” lança olhar à Baixada Fluminense após chacina. Folha Ilustradahttp://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/ilustrad/fq0802200609.htm. (14 June 2018).

[23] OCA/Ancine (2018). Cinema. https://oca.ancine.gov.br/cinema. (14 June 2018).

[24] The debate regarding the impeachment’s legitimacy was already on as shown by the protest of the production members from the Brazilian movie Aquarius during 2016 Cannes festival, three months before the final voting in congress: Deutsche Welles (2016). Em Cannes, equipe de “Aquarius” protesta contra impeachment. (17 May 2016). https://www.dw.com/pt-br/em-cannes-equipe-de-aquarius-protesta-contra-impeachment/a-19264184   (21 February 2021).

[25] Both cited productions do not have takes on the Impeachment affair, but on a second moment of the Brazilian political crises, which is the Brazilian judiciary journey to arrest former president Luis Inácio da Silva.

[26] This content, by the time of the impeachment, was integrally transmitted by Congress TV Channels, which hold an exceedingly small audience.

[27] Both cited productions do not have takes on the Impeachment affair, but on a second moment of the Brazilian political crises, which is the Brazilian judiciary journey to arrest former president Luis Inácio da Silva.

[28] Nexo Jornal (2016). O que diz a lei sancionada pelo governo Temer sobre créditos suplementares. (08 September 2016). https://www.nexojornal.com.br/expresso/2016/09/08/O-que-diz-a-lei-sancionada-pelo-governo-Temer-sobre-cr%C3%A9ditos-suplementares (24 July 2020).

[29] Since 2016, several studies have endorsed the impeachment view as a coup organized by a varied group of conservative elites (assembling protestant churches, landowners, media groups, among others) and inserted in a Latin America context of parliamentary coups during the late 2010s, as in:  Singer, A., Boito Jr, A., Gomes, C., Ribeiro, D., Fagnani, E., Solano, E., … & Arantes, P. (2016). Porque gritamos golpe: para entender o impeachment e a crise política no Brasil. São Paulo: Boitempo Editorial; Tavares, F. D. M. B., Berger, C., & Vaz, P. B. (2016). Um golpe anunciado: Lula, Dilma e o discurso pró-impeachment na revista Veja. Pauta Geral, 3(2), pp. 20-44; Prudencio, K., Rizzotto, C., & Sampaio, R. C. (2018). A Normalização do Golpe: o esvaziamento da política na cobertura jornalística do ‘impeachment’de Dilma Rousseff. Contracampo, Niterói, 37(02), pp. 08-36.

[30] According to the information listed on WCF Website ‘funded films: production’

[31] Some works discussing this subject are Campos, M. (2013). La América Latina de” Cine en Construcción” Implicaciones del apoyo económico de los festivales internacionales / The Latin America of “Films in Progress”. Archivos de la Filmoteca. No. 71, pp. 13-26; Baqués, C. C. (2011). El espacio audiovisual euro-latinoamericano: el cine como eje central de la cooperación supranacional. Anàlisi: quaderns de comunicació i cultura. No. 41, pp. 27-45; as well as Falicov, T. (2010). Migrating from South to North: The Role of Film Festivals in Funding and Shaping Global South Film and Video. In: Elmer, G. et al. (eds.) (2010). Locating Migrating Media. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, pp. 3-21.

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Guilherme Fellipin dos Santos graduated in International Relations for the University of São Paulo in 2019 and is currently on the master’s program of Information Science, with emphasis in Information Culture, at the USP’s School of Communication and Arts. Between 2015-2017 he was a former researcher at Center of International Negotiations Studies-USP and worked on several projects ranging from analyzing the Chinese economy to working on reports for the United Nations Development Programme about Latin American Drug policies. In 2016 he participated in the UNIGOU research program at the West Bohemia University, Plzen, Czech Republic about Middle-East/ Latin America economic relations and in 2017 published the article named “The Counterculture Cinema in the Cold War and the new social-cultural paradigms“. Miriam Henze was born in Germany but lived since the age of five in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. She graduated in Audiovisual Arts at the Universidad de Guadalajara and studied a semester abroad at the faculty for Social Sciences at the Universität Bielefeld. She worked as a coordinator of the Gender Lab, a project-development platform from the International Film Festival with Gender Perspective in Mexico City, and as an assistant director and production manager in several film productions. Los Años Azules (Dir. Sofía Gómez Córdova, Mexico 2017) is her first feature film as a producer, which was awarded with the FIPRESCI International critics prize and won several recognitions as best Mexican feature, including a nomination by the Mexican Academy Award for best debut feature. Miriam is currently producing her graduate film for her master’s degree in Film and Television Production at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf, a documentary filmed in Germany, Mozambique and South Africa, supported by the (MBB) Medienboard regional film fund and the German rbb broadcaster. She is a scholarship holder from the “Grodman Legacy” University of Guadalajara Foundation-USA and the DAAD. Her professional interests focus on international production, film policy and cultural cooperation.