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And if we shared those millions?

Actor Guilherme Fontes, through some very good contacts in the federal government, has assured millions of dollars for a project to film the life of Brazilian media mogul Assis Chateaubriand. This too sweet of a deal angered many filmmakers who were on line to get some federal financing. Here, a filmmaker blows the whistle.

Marcos Manhães Marins

Brazil will spend, in a single movie, public money enough to produce 10 good Brazilian films! Brazilian cinema is not an industry, a business like in Hollywood, but when actor Guilherme Fontes's overbudgeted project which will deal with TV and newspaper mogul Assis Chateaubriand received official approval, it reminded me of director Michael Cimino's disastrous superproduction Heaven's Gate and I asked myself: "What are we getting for so much money? Where are the bad judgment or the irregularities in this case?"

Irregularity number 1 In 1994, as published on the Diário Oficial da União, Parliament approved for the year 1995, a total value dedicated to Brazilian Cultural Projects enough to produce 80 moving pictures with an average duration of 1:30h and average cost of $1,200. In Brazil, actors and technicians don't demand Hollywoodian wages. It happens that the Culture Ministry has given one eighth of the national yearly cake to one single film project. This when there are nearly 100 movie projects waiting for this chance.

Irregularity number 2 That project was approved "ad referendum", which means it has not been judged by the Film and Video Committee (CNIC-IBAC) as other film projects have to be.

Irregularity number 3 Authorized on December 11, the Chateaubriand project gave only 20 days - and this during the Christmas season for the people involved to raise the budget money from sponsors. It's known that even experienced producers as Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands's Luís Carlos Barreto usually take more than one year to raise funds for a middle-budgeted film.

Irregularity number 4 That privileged project had no budget until the beginning of December 95, while there is a pioneer project called Cabeça de Paraíba with exactly the same objectives producing a movie with miniseries version, telling the life of Assis Chateaubriand, the father of Brazilian TV being developed together with the Culture Ministry since 1992. And this miniseries screenplay has been published and registered since May 11, 1994, before the release on August 4, 1994 of journalist Fernando de Moraes bestseller Chatô, o Rei do Brasil.

Brazil was producing 100 films a year in the `70s, but his number had fallen to zero 1992 when President Fernando Collor de Mello closed Embrafilme. Recently, the national movie industry has shown signs of life. An important mark of the renaissance of the Brazilian Cinema was the film Carlota Joaquina by Carla Camurati . It cost about $600,000 and it was a big hit in Brazil, selling more than $4 million in tickets.Walter Salles's Terra Estrangeira (Foreign Land), another successful quality film, cost even less and was invited to compete in the US Sundance Film Festival.

The most expensive movie finished in 1995 was O Quatrilho, produced by Luís Carlos Barreto, who previously produced Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands". Barreto spent $1.6 million in O Quatrilho and was able to sell 60% of its shares at the Stock Exchange. Mr. Barreto produced a first class film which has received applause from the audience and has even been considered for an Oscar nomination. The average budget to produce a Brazilian film is about $1.2 million. That's not that little. After all, this is close to the budget of many successful Woody Allen's films. Quentim Tarantino's Sex, Lies and Videotape cost less than this, got a prize in Cannes and pleased the public.

That creative way of producing is appropriate for a country like Brazil. Moreover, the most successful Brazilian film of all times, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands made a mere $11 million. And this during a period that spanned more than 10 years. A Dama do Lotação with superstar Sônia Braga sold $ 7 million in tickets. Lucio Flávio $ 6 million.

Now a minister authorizes $12 million for a single movie. Big money is no warranty for success. We have many expensive flops in Hollywood to prove that. In Brazil, I remember for instance a project called Chico Rei, film and miniseries directed by Walter Lima Jr., an experienced film maker who failed. And he had plenty of money thanks to a co-production with some European countries in Europe. The costs soared and the disaster was so big that the negative film rolls are still in the lab waiting to be paid.

And even if the Chateaubriand project becomes a huge hit, I believe that Brazil would benefit much more if it had ten new movies made instead of only one. That would also mean jobs for 1,000 film professionals instead of the 100 who will be benefited. Besides that, with this kind of money ten Brazilian filmmakers, experienced or not, could have an opportunity to exercise their talent. This way, we would have ten options and we would multiply by ten the possibilities of producing works of art as well as money making hits.

We have to start producing again 50 or 100 films a year. (The United States produces more than 300). Then, in a large market, yes, one or other movie may cost a fortune and put at risk its company as it happened in Hollywood with Orion, Carolco and Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer/UA. What will happen if we put in jeopardy our embryonic market which has released only five films in 1995?

The first time actor Guilherme Fontes announced in December 1994 his intention to produce a film on Chateaubriand life, he declared he would need no more than $5 million dollars to make the film. At that time he said to be in negotiations so Al Pacino would play Chateaubriand. According to Fontes himself, $3 million would go for film production and $2 million for publicity. With $12 million, what is he going to do with the other $ 7 million?

Several documents about this question can be viewed in the Internet at

Marcos Manhães Marins, graduated from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, is a filmmaker and has studied at the British Film Institute. You can contact him through his E-mail: or phone: 55-21-971-1567. Marins has been directing the project "Chateaubriand - Cabeça de Paraíba"

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