Record Box Office Pushes the Bar for Brazilian Films

Outgoing president signs decree expanding screen quotas to favor local productions.

BUENOS AIRES – Elite Squad 2’s record performance – it became Brazil’s most popular film ever, and even eclipsed Avatar at the box office — seems to have encouraged Brazilian film protectionism to take a small step forward.

Presidential decree number 7414, which was made official last Friday, increases the screen quota for exhibition of local films in all Brazilian theaters. The order was one of the last government policies signed by outgoing President “Lula” da Silva before delivering office to Dilma Roussef, the first woman to be elected as Brazil’s head of state, who was sworn in on January 1st. 

This type of protectionist policy has been implemented in the Brazilian film industry for decades, but it hadn’t been updated for some years. Since 2007, theaters were obligated to screen local productions for a minimum period of 28 days in the case of one-screen theaters. That number could go as high as 63 days for multiplexes. The new standard follows the growth in annual local releases, which went from 30 films in 2001 to 80 for the last two years.

The new legislation maintains the number of days but increases the number of films theaters will have to offer during that period. Single-screen theaters must now show three different films (instead of two); for multiplexes with more than 10 screens, the number goes from 11 to 14. 

The context for this decision was the record increase the Brazilian film industry figures enjoyed in 2010. According to figures by Filme B, the audience for local films increased by 60% — 25.5 million — the highest mark since Brazilian cinema’s big retomada (“resumption”) in the early 1990s. The box office witnessed an even bigger increase of 71%, around 225 million reais ($135 million).

The all-time record of José Padilha’s Elite Squad 2 – recently announced as part of the Panorama sidebar at next month’s Berlin International Film Festival – wasn’t the only success story. For the first time, three Brazilian films are among the year’s top 10. Apart from highest-grossing Squad, Wagner de AssisNosso Lar and Daniel Filho’s Chico Xavier got to squeeze in the ranking, following blockbusters Avatar, Shrek Forever After, Twilight: Eclipse, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Brazil’s exhibition industry also enjoyed a very good year, with a total 134,8 million tickets sold — a 20% increase — and box office revenues of 1.26 billion reais ($758 million), 30% more than last year. The increase was helped along by the growth of 3D screens, which went from 97 to 262.