Hollywood in Brazil

by Meher Tatna December 5, 2019
Premiere Fast and Furious 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2011

Vin Diesel a the premiere of Fast and Furious 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2011.

buda mendes/latin content via getty image

One in an occasional series exploring the state of Hollywood films in global markets.

With the Bolsonaro government taking power in early 2019, Brazil’s right-wing president unleashed furious attacks on the local film industry, threatening to shutter the Agência Nacional do Cinema (ANCINE), the federal film funding agency if it didn’t comply with government-mandated censorship. Politicians and industry executives have spoken out against his threats, lamenting that if ANCINE was to be shut down, the Brazilian film industry, dependent on its funding, would effectively shut down as well. 70% of movies produced in Brazil depend on this funding. Filmmakers like Fernando Meirelles sent a protest letter as well.

ANCINE froze funding in April and said it was in the process of “restructuring.” Funding for gay-themed films was stopped as well by the self-described “proud” homophobe Bolsonaro, though gay marriage has been legal in the country since 2013. A judge has issued an injunction against the freezing of funds in November 2019 pending a higher court’s review, reports Reuters.

Private funding seems to be ending as well with semi-public Petrobras, Brazil's major oil company, pulling its sponsorship of the São Paulo International Film Festival and the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival.

So it isn’t surprising that Hollywood movies fill the breach as the local industry has been struggling. But the total box office numbers show a downward trend. The total box office take for 2018 was $638 million, down 10% from 2017’s $718 million.

A lot of factors contribute to the lack of fan enthusiasm. A severe recession, few movie theaters, the popularity of telenovelas, and the ten-fold hike in movie ticket prices over the past two decades leading to rampant piracy are some reasons.

In the week ending November 24, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was No. 1 with $19 million earned in 6 weeks of release. The other dominant title is Joker at No. 3 with $36 million over 8 weeks. Every other movie in the top 20 is a Hollywood production averaging between $1-4 million with the exception of The Lion King at $69 million over 19 weeks. The top-grossing movie of the year so far is Avengers: Endgame with $85 million in gross receipts; last year’s was Avengers: Infinity War at $66 million.

Hollywood studios with deep pockets (okay, only Disney) have continued to shoot their films in Brazil. Black Panther shot scenes in Brazil where the Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguazu Falls) represented Wakanda. And Avengers: Infinity Wars shot scenes of the planet Vormir in the sand dunes and lagoons of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Northern Brazil. Brazil also has excellent post-production facilities and four studios in São Paulo.

Enter Netflix which launched in Brazil in 2011 to a resounding lack of interest. According to Bloomberg, Netflix executives found primitive internet infrastructure and minimal or no wifi across the country and immediately set about installing web servers and partnering with local telecoms to improve connectivity, launching a television ad campaign in 2013 to build its credibility and therefore its subscriber base. At first, American programming was the hook, and then Netflix cast major Brazilian star Wagner Moura as drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in Narcos, and heavily promoted the show and won over viewers.

The next step was to create local co-productions. Telenovela star Bianca Comparato was cast in 3%, a dystopian sci-fi thriller for young adults that launched worldwide in 2016, the first Portuguese-language original series on Netflix. Season 3 was released in June 2019. The writer/director Pedro Aguilera had had no success selling it to Brazilian buyers before Netflix picked it up. Another high-profile success is The Mechanism, a political drama based on true events created by Jose Padilha about Operation Car Wash, a corruption scheme between the government and engineering firms exposed by a police task force. The second season premiered in May this year. And in August 2019, Keanu Reeves shot the sci-fi series Conquest in São Paulo. The Hollywood Reporter also reported on two other original Brazilian series – the crime drama Sintonia co-created by music producer KondZilla, and Invisible City, produced by Carlos Saldanha, who also directed the Fox animation films Ice Age, Ferdinand  and the Rio franchise.

Netflix also sponsors an annual film competition in Rio each year as well as a version of Comic-Con in São Paulo every December.

Amazon and HBO Latin America (the latter with its Magnifica 70) have also made inroads into Brazil, but they required Netflix to lead the way. And Roku is expected to expand into the country as well, according to Variety, forming partnerships with local broadcasters.

As an aside, an amusing blog, Rio Gringa, takes exception to the way that Hollywood portrays Brazil as a country. The blogger is particularly incensed with 2006’s Turistas, the first Hollywood movie shot entirely in Brazil, directed by John Stockwell and starring Josh Duhamel and Olivia Wilde about backpackers caught up in an organ-harvesting ring, calling it “ridiculously stupid.”

Also criticized was The Fast and Furious 5 which was set in Brazil and which filmed a few scenes in the Cidade Maravilhosa, but did the majority of its shoot in Puerto Rico for budget reasons. And then there was RioFilme, the Brazilian distribution company, that the blogger essentially accuses of bribing the production of Breaking Dawn to film the honeymoon scene between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson with $500,000, though she concedes it did increase local employment and revenue.