Brazil's Sweetest Sixteen

There are more than 170 million people living in Brazil, the largest country in South America. Despite the dense population, there are only about 1600 movie houses -- roughly the same amount as in Manhattan, according to Adriana Dutra, executive director of the seventh annual Brazilian Film Festival of Miami. She estimates that more than 90 percent of the films shown in her country are Hollywood productions. The result, she says, is a great hunger among audiences and filmmakers there for more Brazilian films.

The government recently got into the mix, giving film producers tax breaks and mandating that at least 30 percent of the films shown be home-grown. The move has sparked a renaissance of sorts in Brazil, where television soap operas rule the entertainment domain. But that is changing rapidly as more than 250 films are produced per year, many of them to international acclaim, such as 2002's gritty City of God, 2000's dark comedy Me You and Them, and 1999 Academy Award nominee Central Station.

"Because the laws gave us a new opportunity," Dutra says from her office in Rio de Janeiro, "we now have a huge film industry that is fighting for more visibility."

Dutra and her partners are bringing sixteen of the best recent Brazilian films to Miami in what is fast becoming the city's most colorful and best organized film festival. The celebration begins with a free beach screening of selected shorts Saturday at Nikki Beach (One Ocean Dr., Miami Beach). Then for four days beginning June 4, the festival will present features and documentaries at the Lincoln Theatre (541 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach).

Among the high-profile films is Man of the Year, starring heartthrob Murilo Benicio as an unemployed used-car salesman who becomes an assassin for hire before winding up the owner of a successful security firm. Also competing for the festival's Cristal Lens is José Joffily's Two Lost in the Dirty Night, an intense and absurd drama about two Brazilian immigrants living the illegal alien American Dream. Mango Yellow, the tragicomedic story of passionate rendezvous and misunderstandings by director Claudio Assis, recently a winner at the Berlin Film Festival, is expected to draw crowds.

Throughout the festival expect to see many of the film stars and directors who will all come together June 8 for the Cristal Lens Awards ceremony, featuring a concert by electronic-bossa nova sensation Fernanda Porto. Durta is determined to center the world's attention on Brazilian cinema by taking the festival for the first time to New York City and to Amsterdam. "Everybody's going to be there," Durta says. "We have the actors, we have the glamour, we have the photographers. It's a real film festival."

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Juan Carlos Rodriguez