Rio’s ready for its close-up, Mr. Allen

Vicky Cristina . . . Rio de Janeiro?

The Brazilian city has formed a new film commission, hired a longtime movie industry pro to head it and set an ambitious first goal: landing the next Woody Allen flick.

Taking a cue from Barcelona, the Spanish city that was the principal setting for Allen’s last film, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Rio is dangling $2 million in subsidies to attract the director’s as-yet-untitled next movie.

This month, Rio was named the site for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and city fathers hope it’s on a roll. It will also be one of several Brazilian cities hosting the 2014 World Cup soccer match.

Although nothing is signed, Allen’s production company sent two top producers -- Stephen Tenenbaum and the director’s sister Letty Aronson -- to Rio this month to scout locations. They made stops at landmarks including Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Botanical Garden and a park near the hilltop Christ the Redeemer statue.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and Rio de Janeiro state governor Sergio Cabral agreed last month to merge the city and state film commissions. The new Rio Film Commission has been given a $45-million three-year budget that includes promotion and incentives.


The political allies see movies as a way of boosting tourism, creating jobs and polishing the city’s image, which has been besmirched in recent years by rampant crime.

Steve Solot, the longtime Latin America chief for the Motion Picture Assn., was named to head the new commission. Although Solot said Rio is competing with “all the film commissions of the world” to attract Allen, he expressed confidence that the New York-based director’s next movie would happen in Rio.

“It will be a postcard for the city and state and a step toward making Rio a real destination not just for filming but for tourists leading up to the World Cup and Olympics,” Solot said.

Despite its exotic scenery and festive spirit, Rio’s major film productions have been few and far between. They include Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946); a James Bond film, “Moonraker” (1979); “Blame It on Rio” (1984), starring Michael Caine; “Moon Over Parador” (1988), with Richard Dreyfuss; and “The Expendables,” a Sylvester Stallone vehicle slated to open next year.

Many businesses, including film production services, have fled Rio in recent years because of the crime rate. Although the city dominates in the production of soap operas, most commercial films and videos are shot in Sao Paulo, the country’s business hub, said Bruno Barreto, an Oscar-nominated director and son of Brazilian producer Luiz Carlos Barreto.

Bruno Barreto said his native city had not been a “production-friendly town” and had done little to promote itself in recent years. That may be changing with the new political leadership and the increase in royalties that the city and state are receiving from offshore oil production.

Solot said Rio has adequate film production services to accommodate Allen and other filmmakers. One of the Rio-based production houses negotiating with Allen to help produce his next film is Conspiracy Productions.

In the U.S., most states decided long ago that hosting movie productions was good business. Forty-three states now offer subsidies covering up to 40% of a film’s costs, with Michigan, New Mexico and Louisiana among the most generous.

Solot said studies have established that a typical U.S. film production pumps $200,000 a day into a local economy through spending on hotels, restaurants and technical and other services.

Spain gave Allen $2 million, or 10% of his budget, to attract “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” The movie’s positive effect on tourism in Barcelona and Oviedo, the two primary cities used as locations, caught the attention of other cities in Europe and Latin America, Solot said.

“My job is to put the city and state of Rio on the map of the world of audiovisual communications,” he said. “That includes film but is much, much more, from reality shows and video games to pay-per-view and video on demand. . . . Rio has been on the map for a few important films historically, but it’s not on the map of the production community presently.”


Kraul is a special correspondent.