Brazil: Exports Up, Number of Theatres Down


by Sérvulo Siqueira


BRASILIA – Two major factors determined the performance of the Brazilian movie industry during 1982 an increase in the number and the profits of exported product and a decrease in the number of Brazil's theatres. While many Brazilian films have been exported to more than 17 countries, among them I Love You, recently released in the U.S. and Amor Bandido, now being screened in the Los Angeles area, the number of domestic screening rooms has gone from 3,000 theatres in the 70's to 2,000 in the beginning of the 80's.

Embrafilme's policy tends to reinforce the situation since the government-controlled organization wants to reduce the number of films produced in the country in order to improve their quality and doesn't take any measures to increase the number of theatres. Ultimately, the government allowed the theatres which were classified as special rooms to establish the price of the tickets, but the measure doesn't seem to have produced the desired results. Since 1979, when the production of films reached its peak, the number of feature films produced stabilized at around 80 movies per year, with Embrafilme trying to concentrate its resources on just a few films, which the company sees as possible blockbusters, not only in Brazil but also overseas.

In order to aim for the international marketplace, Embrafilme stimulated high-budget film productions and the cost of an average film increased considerably by Brazilian standards. So, a low budget film that, until 1980, had cost US$100,000 to produce, would be made today for no less than US$320,000. A high-budget film in Brazil is estimated at no less than US$680,000. Inflation also plays an important role in the process, since, in the last year, the rate has been around 100%. This rate of inflation determined the rapid increase of labor costs and the equipment rentals, together with the high costs of such materials as tape and film.

The attempts to improve the technical quality of the films produced in Brazil seem to be having some effect. Several Brazilian films have, in the last two years, reached many distinguished international markets, especially in the U.S. theatres. Thus Bye Rye Brazil, Pixote and Gaijin show not only the struggling reality of the tropics, hut also present them in a very convincing manner, as well as sharing the fantasies and myths upon which parts of the Brazilian past and present are to be found.

The decrease in the number of theatres doesn't necessarily mean that audiences are not reacting to the appeals of current movie attractions. Rather it shows that the Brazilian public is concentrating its attention on just a few films. Some 130 million spectators paid between US$1.50 and US$3.50 (approximately around 300 cruzeiros and 900 cruzeiros) in the movie theatres to see more than 400 films during 1982. According to a presidential decree issued by Getúlio Vargas, president during the "Estado Novo" regime (1937-1945) students pay only half-price for the tickets. The exibitors have tried through many pressures in the Congress and in the government organizations to abolish this decree but have thus not succeeded. They argue that the low price of the tickets has transformed the theatre business into a low-profit business and that they cannot compete against the television networks, whose penetration has largely increased in the country during the last 10 years.

Nevertheless, Embrafilme's officers state that the reason for the decrease in the number of theatres rests on the fact that exhibitors haven't modernized their theatre equipment in the last few years, and that the public shies away from the movie theatres because of poor projections, low quality sound and uncomfortable seats.

While Embrafilme in its commercial and noncommercial branches directs its resources toward the production of films in Brazil, its counterpart, the National Cinema Council known as CONCINE is the federal organization destined to regulate the Brazilian Cinematographic Legislation. Every foreign producer wanting to make a film in Brazil has to meet the standards and legal technicalities required by CONCINE for cinematographic production in the country. Despite the efforts of some Brazilian producers overseas, co-productions have not increased in recent years. Many Brazilian filmmakers, however, see the co-productions with foreign films as a way out of the crisis, which has been especially difficult for the Union of Artists and Technicians, whose unemployment rate is approximately at 90%.

Filmmaker Phydias Barbosa, who has been living in Los Angeles for the last years, complains that the reason for the lack of co- production in Brazil is that "CONCINE has no concern for the coming of a foreign production into Brazil." He points out, "The restrictions are so overwhelming that they practically kill the entrance of foreign production in the country. The alleged reason is that they are trying to avoid the inflationary effects in the economy, which the admission of new capital will cause. Any producer willing to produce a film in Brazil will need to explain the origin of his financial resources and will have to prove his legal status as a foreign producer. Also, the total amount of the resources employed in the production will have to be deposited in a checking account of a bank which operates in the country.

According to Barbosa, another reason for the rigid legislation is the fear that foreign productions could raise the salaries of the technicians, which they try at all costs to impede.

According to the filmmaker, the current coproduction situation is going to undergo change. "There are a lot of people in Brazil who would appreciate the prospect of foreign productions. Technicians, laboratory companies, hotels and transport companies must organize among themselves and propose a new legislation to the government, which can facilitate: the entrance of foreign capitals into the movie business of the country."

Faced with high costs, Brazilian filmmakers are diversifying their activities. The growth of video production seems to indicate that this new medium can provide an alternative vehicle for the filmmakers of the country. The Sharp Co. has recently introduced a domestically produced video-recorder in the Brazilian stores. The price of the model is around US$1,500. Until now, the only way one could purchase a videocassette machine would be through legal importation which makes the equipment extremely expensive for the purchasing power of the population or through contraband, an illegal and very risky method. With the advent of the Sharp video-recorder and the approaching arrival of the Sony system, the number of machines has mushroomed and it is estimated that some 50,000 models exist throughout the country today.

Since it is already possible here to produce the shows on the home videocassette, new companies are beginning to establish themselves as producers of programs for educational and business purposes, as well as for the domestic customers, who want an alternative to the network's schedules. Those companies operate mainly in the more developed areas of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The range of activity of the newly established video-production companies is still very limited, primarily due to the monopolistic legislation established by the influence of the powerful Network Globo. The laws don't allow much hope for the survival of independent video-production in the country, but the new video-producers are already extending their activities, and this can be considered one of the reasons why the video production is quickly becoming one of the most attractive branches of Brazilian show-business.

With the arrival of the home videocassettes, the UHF system, which was practically unused in the country, is turning into a new source of investment, and some new stations are also beginning to operate in this system. For instance, Walter Clark, the producer of I Love You, is planning to set up a UHF station which will show only films.

It seems that in the future television will become the big alternative to movie production here. For the Brazilian Cinema, survival will necessitate going beyond the theatres. The Brazilian filmmakers, if they want to continue, will have to branch out to free television, the home videocassette market, and the cable-TV system. With the development of the videocassette, the Brazilian Cinema may be at the beginning of a new era.

Sérvulo Siqueira, a producer and director of documentaries in Brazil, most recently served as coordinator of cinematographic research for Embrafilme. He headed up a 12-person research team reviewing the history of film production in Brazil from 1898 through 1980. Siqueira has also researched, written and produced a series of 120 programs for Brazil's Public Television Network.


The Hollywood Reporter, Jan. 18, 1983.