Brazilian Moviemakers “Go Hollywood″
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Brazilian filmmakers, known for such political and romantic movies as ″Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands,‴’Bye, Bye Brazil″ and ″They Don’t Use Black Tie,″ are abandoning the sunny, sensual tropics and going Hollywood.
The trend is causing controversy between those who say directors are selling out and handing over Brazil’s cultural identity and those who say the added challenge of making a Brazilian film for a foreign audience will push the industry to new heights.
Hector Babenco, director of the Brazilian-filmed but English-language ″Kiss of the Spider Woman,″ which won an Academy Award in 1985 for actor William Hurt, went directly to making movies overseas after that critically acclaimed film. He recently took his film crew to Albany, N.Y., where he shot a $30 million adaptation of William Kennedy’s ″Ironweed,″ starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.
Top directors Miguel Faria Jr., Arnaldo Jabor and Nelson Pereira dos Santos are finishing scripts for films spoken in English and made with foreign money.
They say they lose on expensive feature films made in Brazil’s Portuguese language and shown only to the relatively few cinemagoers in Brazil, where 50 percent of the population have never seen a film, according to government figures.
Co-productions with another country and foreign actors help to sell a Brazilian film abroad, Faria said.
However, last year, Brazilian movies, known for their metaphorical, political themes, won a record 17 international prizes.
Suzana Amaral’s ″Star Hour″ took the Golden Bear award for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival, and Jabor’s ″Love Me Forever or Never″ won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival.
But directors say it’s increasingly hard to make films pay off in this country with a $112 billion foreign debt, sporadically rampant inflation and with little money to invest in movies.
Last year, Embrafilme, the government film agency, received 600 film scripts but only had the money to finance 22. This year, the number will be about the same, according to Ivan Isola, the operations director of the agency. About 10 will be co-productions with foreign producers.
″We have to make films for foreign markets now,″ Isola said. ″Co- productio ns are the only solution. Films don’t pay for themselves if they are shown only in Brazil.″
Beyond the immediate problem of financing, Brazilian directors must compete for movie audiences with American superproductions, which cost an average $16 million. A top Brazilian production costs only $500,000.
Despite difficulties selling Brazilian films at home, Carlos Diegues, director of ″Bye Bye Brazil″ and ″Quilombo,″ called the sudden move to make English-speaking films dangerous.
″A film is a success because it reveals an original side of a country,″ he said. ″If you forget this and try for a Hollywood remake you lose your audience. We can’t base a whole industry on American money and actors.
Through the 1970s, Brazilian directors such as Glauber Rocha, Diegues, Faria, dos Santos, Jabor and others made obscure but avant-garde pictures that were for the most part too regional to be understood abroad. Indeed, directors of that so-called ″cinema novo,″ or new cinema movement, scorned foreign influences.
″We no longer live in a pastoral paradise. Making low-budget films for limited audiences doesn’t make sense any more,″ Faria said. But he added, ″that doesn’t mean any film I make won’t be specifically Brazilian.″
Jabor, whose films ″I Love You″ and ″All Nudity Shall Be Punished″ have been distributed worldwide, said co-productions and the use of foreign actors would not compromise Brazilian cinema.
″For an industry near collapse, it’s a way out,″ he said. ″Directors must always work within strict limitations or die of hunger. The trick will be how to make a Brazilian film and participate in world markets.″
During a recent stop in Brazil, Babenco said he did not feel limited by making either ″Kiss of the Spider Woman″ with American actors and partial funding from American sources, or for doing ″Ironweed.″
″I made the same film I would have made in Brazil, with the same story line and cast,″ he said. ″If not, it would be like going to the United States and making a McDonald’s hamburger.″