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How Brazilian science fiction is catching the world's attention

In the last few years the world feels undeniably a pretty scary, like a dystopian science fiction even. Well it’s certainly true of Brazil. Over here, the signs are everywhere and frequently give the feeling that the Brazil is both the best and the worst country to be.

It seems natural therefore that the science fiction productions of Brazil, that have long been part of an audio-visual underworld, are now catching the attention of big entertainment companies and distributors and of course, movie buffs around the world.

A great example where this is most evident is the show "3%", a Netflix production that started as a student's university project back in 2011. A video posted on YouTube soon caught on and the cast from the most popular TV channel in Brazil got involved to make it a huge success at the time. The most curious fact, however, was the different reactions the production had from audiences - whilst in the series didn’t really catch on in Brazil, over in the USA they loved it and reported the series as a breath of fresh air compared with productions they were used to.

Beth Elderkin, journalist of the Sci-Fi website io9, wrote that the series has no innovative premise, but brought interesting elements of how to play in the world of "science fiction from a non American perspective". This feeling, was reinforced by the American audience in their online reviews, who were motivated by the over- saturation landscape of repetitive Hollywood sci-fi stories.

No one likes a copy-cat after all.

Scene from 3%, a success in reviews in the USA. Credit: Series Promotion

The creator of the series, Pedro Aguilera, spoke about the importance of the Brazilian element when 3% was released on Netflix. "The series is dystopian and throws you into another time, and the themes are universally relatable. However we definitely wanted the series to have a really Brazilian feel", he says. "It’s clichéd to say but if you talk about your tribe, you will be talking to the world".

This saturation of similar Sci-Fi from Hollywood and the interest in something that feels a little more local sets the tone for one of the most popular Brazilian sci-fi movies , "Branco Sai, Preto Fica" (White Leaves, Black Stays -in case you wondered) made in 2014, by director Adirley Queriós. Based on a true story in the 80’s about the invasion of military police in Quarentão, a well known "baile funk" (Brazilian funk ball) in Ceilândia, near Brasília - the movie uses time travel to mix up the true story with a creepy dystopian feel. "It works through a lens of fantastic realism - somethings can only be said in this spectacular way" told Adirley in an interview. With its original language, the movie conquered movie critics across the globe. Alongside all the positive reviews, it has received more than a ten award nominations around the world and has won the Colombian Cartagena Festival, and Mar Del Plata Festival, in Uruguay.

The movie critic Alfredo Suppia, Cinema Professor of Campinas State University (Unicamp), in a published article about Adirley's movie, gives clues about the sudden rise of "Third World Cyberpunk", a genre that uses a more decadent aesthetic and brings a new vision to the landscape. He says, that for peripheral populations - who aren’t part of the high budget industry inner circles "there is no alternative besides making use of rubbish as technology, like in the case of Iberian America". For him, "Branco Sai, Preto Fica"opens the up the path of opportunity for many more to follow and has made a statement about the political use of science fiction.

Scene from "Branco Sai, Preto Fica", winner of many international film festival awards. Credit: movie promotion

The production of these movies depends, of course, on investment. Despite not producing Sci-Fi that abuses the special effects budget - and for all our ability to improvise - every good idea still needs money to come to life. The pilot of 3%, for example, was only produced because of FCITV/ MAis Cultura notice, which focused on the production of fiction series. However only the pilot was picked up by them to produce and they did not win the entire series. As for "Branco Sai, Preto Fica" this was produced with the help of government funding originally assigned for documentaries.

Despite losing investment for the culture sector due to the financial crisis, Brazil continues to invest a good amount of money in the film and TV industry - 942.6 million brazilian reais (over £217million) was put aside to fund 1310 proposals since 2009 - and they hold a great variety of financing options - projects like Núcleo Experimental de Cinema (Experimental Cinema Centre), in Image and Sound Museum, in São Paulo. The newest edition of the Centre is Sci-Fi focused and produced the horror movie "O Experimento" (The Experiment) in 2016. Seventeen people were also chosen this year to participate in the production of a Sci-Fi short movie.

Incentive programs like this allow directors, screenwriters and Brazilian producers to convey their pieces to the big audience inside and out of the country. No wonder, many of them prefer to expose some of the most critical sides of Brazil - and they use Sci-Fi as the medium for the storyline. It’s a bit like they’re saying - sure somethings are not as great as we would hope for, but we are still here. Still Producing.