Skip to main content

Doc Buenos Aires Stakes Its Claim in Latin America

By Richard Shpuntoff

This past October, Doc Buenos Aires put its eighth edition under its belt, establishing it as one of the most solid forums for Latin American documentary production. The forum's basic goal is to "stimulate the creation and development of original projects with potential for international screening," but it also serves as a space for exchanging ideas through the production forum as well as the screenings of international works and presence of filmmakers. This year's edition included Avi Mograbi with his most recent film, Z32; Thomas Heise with Children. As Time Flies; and Helke Sander with a retrospective of her work.

Yves Jeanneau, founder and director of France's Sunny Side of the Doc, returned to serve on the jury for the first time since 2001, when the forum included 14 films, two from Chile and 12 from Argentina. This year's forum truly represented the event's growth and diversification, with 19 films from ten Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Chile.

Jeanneau, who has had a direct relationship with Latin American filmmaking going back to 1990, notably co-producing works by Chilean Patricio Guzmán such as Obstinate Memory and The Pinochet Case, was very pleased with how the forum has grown. "I am very happy eight years later to see that we are working with almost all the countries from Latin America. The projects are better. They still have some training to do and some experiences to get, but I can feel a very strong desire, a very strong need for these films.

Debora Diniz's The House of the Dead (A Casa dos Mortos)

"I feel here much more conviction: the desire and the need for making that film," Jeanneau continues. "[And this] is not something I feel anymore, at least so strongly, in Europe, or in the US or in Canada. [In those places] it's about making a documentary film as part of the business; it's how to pay the rent, it's how to be famous. So, here I feel a stronger will, a stronger determination, and I think it's necessary for documentary."

The forum included a two-day pitching workshop and a one-day clinic, and ended with a pitching competition for 11 awards (in the form of cash prizes, pre-sales and products and services). The projects selected to compete revealed a broad diversity of subject matter. For example, the award for "Most Creative Project," given by ARTE France, went to Brazilian filmmaker Debora Diniz's The House of the Dead (A Casa dos Mortos), a portrait of the day-to-day life of two men, intimate friends, who have lived for more than 30 years in one of Brazil's psychiatric prisons-institutions that have been completely forgotten by the rest of society. The EICTV Award, provided by the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión de San Antonio de los Baños, the famous and very influential Cuban film school, went to Grandfathers (Abuelos), a Chilean/Ecuadorian co-production by Carla Valencia Dávila that contrasts the stories of her two grandfathers: an Ecuadorian self-taught doctor who cured his own cerebral cancer, and a Chilean militant member of the Communist Party who was caught and executed one month after the 1973 coup against the government of Salvador Allende.

A third example of the diversity of films presented is The River That Crosses Us (El río que nos atraviesa) by Manuela Blanco of Venezuela, which won the Jan Vrijman Fund Award. The film, a kind of road movie that travels towards and down the Orinoco River, home to one of the world's largest oil reserves, provides a glimpse into the lives of the various people who will benefit and lose by the future exploitation of the region.

Carla Valencia Dávila's Grandfathers (Abuelos)

Aldrina Valenzuela's film Bullfighting Under (my loose translation for Toreando bajo), which follows the travels and adventures of a comic circus of bullfighting dwarfs who dream of conquering the arenas of Spain, did not win any award, but the filmmaker felt she was returning to Venezuela with some valuable experience. During her first pitch in front of her peers, she was accused of being prejudiced against her subjects because of her use of the term enanitos, which could roughly be translated into English as "dwarfies." Valenzuela explained, "When I first approached [the protagonists of the film], I was very tactful and tried to be politically correct, and then they ended up showing me that this wasn't necessary, that it was silly for me to worry about this. They call themselves ‘dwarfies' and ‘little people.' So I had already passed through that stage when I came here...This kind of conflict seemed a bit strange. So I learned that I need to explain [when pitching] a lot more about how I came to working on this subject and how I came to know the protagonists, what had been the evolution from thinking about meeting them to when I actually got to know them." Laughing, she added, "I had to be more careful and more politically correct when addressing that audience than I did when I met the dwarfs."


Richard Shpuntoff works in Buenos Aires as a translator specializing in film and film production.