Rio de Janeiro’s annual film festival wrapped today, but the city wants to keep the spotlight shining, forking out $500K for “picture-postcard” advertising in Twilight: Breaking Dawn and courting Woody Allen to shoot his next film there.
The Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival finished its 12-day run today with the world premiere of Walter Carvalho’s music documentary Raul. But what stood out more than the quality of Brazilian films that screened (somewhat lacklustre, if truth be told) was a sense that Rio is a metropolis jostling to position itself as the cinema capital of Latin America – and poised expectantly for its moment in the sun. Besides the thriving film festival, now in its 13th year, it’s a city seeking to become the film industry’s main gateway to Latin America, both as the choice destination for international productions and for the big studio junkets and premieres that until now have mostly gone to Mexico. (This year, the city has hosted world premieres for Fast Five and Rio, with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 still to come.)
But image is still a big problem. Crime may not be as rampant as before but with Brazil’s leading filmmaker triumvirate all bursting onto the international stage with features that depict Rio de Janeiro as a drug-gun-and-corruption-infested hellhole (Walter Salles with Central Station, Fernando Meirelles with City Of God and Jose Padilha with Elite Squad), it was no surprise to see Hollywood tap into that skewed vision with Fast Five, which essentially cast the city in the role of massive urban assault course for Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Paul Walker. Is it any wonder that, when I met up over breakfast with Sergio Sa Leitao, CEO of the city’s film commission Rio Filme (who also sponsor the festival), he outlined a campaign to have the city painted in a more positive light? Not a bad idea given that Rio gets the Olympics in 2016, two years after Brazil as a nation hosts the World Cup.
Last year, Twilight: Breaking Dawn kicked off its shoot in Rio’s hopping Lapa district and moviegoers can expect to see at least “two picture-postcard shots” of the city in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 – a privilege for which Rio Filme forked out $500,000. “It’s a kind of product-placement deal we are prepared to do in other projects too,” explains Sa Leitao. “It’s a way of attracting investment and promoting Rio, but we have to be sure the film will be positive.” That’s a prime reason for deciding not to invest in Fast Five, although Universal still received ample logistical support. And Sa Leitao insists, “You can’t underestimate people’s intelligence – no one avoided New York after seeing Taxi Driver.”
Woody Allen is also getting a full-court press to shoot his next feature in the municipality – although having delighted tourist agencies across Europe with rose-tinted portraits of London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome to come, every city on the planet is probably after him. For their part, Rio Filme have offered to guarantee Allen’s budget if he decides to highlight the city’s gorgeous coastal charms, as he will no doubt do if he opts to come – we can’t imagine Woody will have much time for the favelas.
Also on the horizon is Rio, I Love You, another collage of urban short stories modelled on the New York and Paris versions. Meirelles, Padilha and fellow Brazilian directors Andrucha Waddington and Carlos Saldanha (Rio, Ice Age) have all committed to take part; discussions are also underway with Michael Winterbottom, Todd Solondz and Guillermo Arriaga among others to join the project, which is expected to shoot in 2013 for a 2014 release – in time for the World Cup, basically.
Sa Leitao also points to an ambitious cinema-building programme (CineCarioca) in the favelas as another signifier of the city’s burgeoning commitment to film, and offered us a guided tour of the inaugural edifice – complete with leather seats and state-of-the-art 3D projection – in one of the city’s largest favelas. Complexo Do Alemao, as its known, was only prised out of criminal hands last November following “pacification”, a.k.a. a furious four-day gun battle between the drug lords and the army.
As for the film festival (which opened with The Skin I Live In), we didn’t personally see any Brazilian titles with international breakout potential on our watch, although two anticipated features screened after we left. Beto Brant and Renato Ciasca’s I’d Receive The Worst News From Your Beautiful Lips (Eu Receberia As Piores Noticias De Seus Lindos Labios) was dubbed “9 ½ Weeks in the Amazon” and praised by one local critic as “out of this world compared to everything else in the Brazilian premiere section”, while the festival granted four awards, including Best Feature, to Vinicius Combra’s debut A Hora E A Vez De Augusto Matraga, a revenge-themed ‘Western’ set in the farmlands of middle Brazil.
Even if none of this year’s titles go on to have an international shelf life, Brazil isn’t doing badly. Meirelles continues to be an internationally respected filmmaker, Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road starring Kristen Stewart, Garret Hedlund and Amy Adams (and others) is arriving soon and Padilha has been signed to direct MGM’s RoboCop reboot in the wake of Darren Aronofsky’s departure. There are plenty of role models to emulate for Brazil’s next generation of directors. Meanwhile, with Rio pushing itself on all fronts, you’d have to say it’s a city ready for its close-up.