Booming Brazil cinema on show at Cannes

Brazilian cinema, a special guest at this year's prestigious Cannes festival, is experiencing an impressive boom with around 100 films produced every year and a higher international profile.

"Brazilian cinema is going through a fertile period with a great deal of diversity," said filmmaker Carlos Diegues, who will chair the Camera d'Or Jury at Cannes festival, which opens Wednesday in the French Riviera city.

Launched in 1978, the Camera d'Or ("Golden Camera") is awarded to the best first movie of a director.

The 65th edition of the Cannes extravaganza, which runs through May 27, will not feature any Brazilian feature films in its official selection.

But in addition to Diegues, the South American powerhouse will be represented through an adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" directed by Walter Salles and Brazilian-Colombian co-production "La Playa DC" ("The Beach"), which will compete in the sidebar program "Un certain regard."

Brazil will also be present through "Music According to Tom Jobim," a documentary by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, and the screening of three Brazilian classics, including "Xica da Silva" (1975), in parallel sections of the festival.

In the past decade, domestic production jumped from an average of 30 films in 2002 to a record 99 in 2011, according to the national film agency ANCINE.

Joao Guilherme Barone, an academic and film expert, said the national film industry has managed over the past decade to boost production, diversify and nationalize a major part of distribution outlets previously in the hands of foreign firms.

"Between 2004 and 2009, The number of distributors jumped more than 200 percent and most came under domestic control. Today, 73 percent of Brazilian films are launched by Brazilian distributors," added Barone, who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre.

Box office receipts from Brazilian films also rose, closing 2011 with 164 million real ($82 million) following a record 222 million real ($111 million) in 2010 with such hits as "Elite Squad: The Enemy Within" and "Astral City: A Spiritual Journey."

"I love Brazilian cinema for many reasons, particularly because it is diverse, unlike during the 'new cinema' era, when there was a thematic polarization due to the need to combat the dictatorship and show a Brazilian reality that censors wanted to hide," Pereira dos Santos told AFP.

"New cinema" refers to the social realism that infused Brazilian cinema during the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship, largely influenced by the iconoclasm of Italian neorealism and France's post-war New Wave filmmakers.

Diegues said Brazil "deserved" to have more films in the festival's official selection.

"But Salles's presence in the competition and that of short films in the official section, in addition to the tribute by Nelson and the three Brazilian classics, all this is a very special gesture toward our film industry," he added.

lIda Santiago, director of the Rio film festival and the representative of the Cannes festival in Brazil, sees the tribute as recognition of the importance of the Brazilian film industry.

"There are various levels of presence by the cinema of a country in a festival, not just the official selection. We are also looking at the number of producers, projects received, including the level of co-production," she said in an interview, noting that Brazil is well represented in a wider sense.

"I am happy and I believe that it is very good for Brazil to be chosen as special guest. This gives visibility to all the projects, opens doors for the future."

Santiago said there was no question that the Brazilian and Latin American film industries have grown stronger in recent years and now provide films for "all tastes."

"The whole of Latin America, not just Brazil, began to gain more visibility in all the festivals in recent years," she noted. "A new cinema is dawning."

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