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Brazil takes lead role in move to all-digital cinema

Using the latest technology, Brazil plans to open in May the largest network of digital movie theaters in the world.

By Andrew DownieCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 5, 2004


The movie buffs that watched the Brazilian film "Os Normais" ("The Normal Ones") in a São Paulo cinema last October were not aware they were watching history being made. To the men and women sipping soft drinks and munching popcorn, the film - a spin-off from a popular Brazilian sitcom - did not seem that different from any other.

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It was, however, a watershed that promises to have widespread repercussions, not just in Brazil but around the world. That's because there was no celluloid involved nor a reel-to-reel projector at the back of the theater. Everything about the film - from the production to the distribution to the exhibition - was done digitally. Brazil had never before dipped into digital, but it has emerged on top of the digital wave, debuting technology with "Os Normais" that is more sophisticated than most cinemas have seen.

"It was an important event because it showed that our industry can do everything on digital, and quality will not be compromised," said Fabio Lima, chief operating officer of Rain Networks, the São Paulo company that developed the new digital software. "The public liked what they saw on the screen [and] the industry was comfortable with the knowledge that we had found solutions for piracy [and] distribution. It was a landmark for Brazilian cinema."

Hollywood has made halting forays into digital cinema - George Lucas says that he will show the next Star Wars installment, due out next year, in theaters only with digital capability. But the cost of converting theaters to digital and concerns over piracy has the US movie industry moving in slow motion.

In Brazil, however, necessity has become the mother of invention. The hinterlands of South America's largest country are virtually inaccessible by roads, and copying and transporting hundreds of reels of film is expensive. Now Rain has developed a low-cost distribution system, with built-in antipiracy measures, and Brazil is poised to take the boldest steps yet into all-digital cinema, with 100 theaters - the largest digital network in the world - scheduled to be projecting pixels by May.

A nation steeped in technology

That such technological advances should come to Brazil, a country better known for the more frivolous pastimes of sunbathing, dancing, and soccer, may be surprising only to those unaware of Brazilians' love of technology. Although it is considered a developing nation, Brazil's long-standing tradition of openness, coupled with its sheer size, means that there are tens of millions of well-educated techies eager for cutting-edge gadgets and devices.

Brazil has one of the highest rates of Internet use in the developing world, with 95 percent of taxpayers using the web to make their annual income-tax declaration. The country's voting system is fully electronic and its banking software is among the most advanced in the world. Even Brazil's computer hackers are so skilled that a leading expert recently warned, "Brazil is both a laboratory for cybercrime and also its largest exporter worldwide."