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Brazilian Firms Gets Film Rights of Ecologist’s Life Story

June 8, 1989

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A Brazilian film company beat out Hollywood filmmakers and purchased the rights to film the life story of the assassinated Brazilian ecologist Francisco ″Chico″ Mendes.

JN Filmes signed a $1.76 million contract with the Chico Mendes Foundation to lease the exclusive rights to an English-Portuguese film, TV series, autobiographical book and videocassette on Mendes’ life, producer Jofre Rodrigues told a news conference.

The announcement Wednesday ended a two-month contest among international movie companies - including Warner Bros. Inc., United Artists and Robert Redford, representing 20th Century Fox - for the rights to shoot a movie about the life and death of Mendes.

Mendes, 44, was the leader of a rubber tappers union who fought to save the Amazon jungle from deforestation.

In December, he became to many the world’s first ecological martyr when he was shot to death outside his modest wooden house in the Acre state jungle town of Xapuri, 2,700 miles northwest of Rio.

Authorities arrested the son of a cattle rancher in the shooting.

Mendes had won a United Nations award for his struggle against ranchers eager to clear the rain forest for grazing. His death struck a chord worldwide.

Hollywood producers rushed to the Amazon with offers to buy film rights.

But a four-member panel from the Chico Mendes Foundation, an organization made up of ecologists, rubber tappers and family members, chose Brazil’s JN Filmes on Tuesday night.

″We are not trying solely to make money on this project,″ Chico’s widow, Ilzamar, told The Associated Press. ″We want to get news out throughout the world of who Chico was, what he stood for and the forces who tried to stop him.″

Panel member Gilson Pescador said JN was chosen because its offer included making a TV series, a video and a book based on Mendes’ life.

Pescador called some of the Hollywood proposals ″illusory,″ but also noted, ″We thought a Brazilian film company would best show the destruction that’s going on and the reality of the people of the region.″

He declined to confirm a reported $1.2 million offer made this week by Warner Bros. for rights to the movie alone.

The movie script, to be written by Brazilian author Marcio de Souza, will be in English and Portuguese and foreign distributors will be contacted to help sell the film abroad, Pescador said.

Jose Claudio Padilha, the designated director, said filming for the estimated $10 million project would begin in May 1990 on location in Xapuri. Plans also include filming in Washington and Miami.

Pescador said nearly $400,000 from the rights would go to family members, with $400,000 going to public education and health projects for Indians and rubber tappers throughout the region.

He said Ilzamar Mendes would donate the remainder to the rubber tappers union and other such organizations in the state of Acre, he said.

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