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DocBuenos Aires Draws Buyers from North of the Border

By Richard Shpuntoff

For the first time in its 12-year history, Doc Buenos Aires shifted from its European base of support to a very powerful presence of North American decision-makers who attended what is the largest market/pitching forum for Latin American film production in the continent.

Historically, the forum has had very strong ties with Europe, and France in particular—Carmen Guarini, one of the forum's founders, studied with Jean Rouch in Paris West University Nanterre La Défense, and the event was founded in part by the French Embassy and the Documentary Department of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But after Yves Jeanneau of Sunny Side of the Doc decided to move his Latin Side of the Doc program to Mexico after three years in Argentina, the organizer of Doc Buenos Aires responded by focusing on its neighbors to the distant north. While in previous years, Doc Buenos Aires has always offered a couple of representatives from organizations like ITVS and Hot Docs, this year it was North American funders and producers who dominated the pitching and one-on-one meeting sessions.

The Canadians showed up in full force, with a contingent of over half a dozen producers who flew south with Monique Simard, director general of the National Film Board of Canada, and Elizabeth Radshaw, director of the Hot Docs Market and Forum. Traveling a slightly shorter distance to meet with producers and filmmakers from all over Latin America were a significant range of US representatives including Bruni Burres of Sundance Institute, the Tribeca Film Fund's Ryan Harrington, Tom Koch of PBS/WGBH, Udy Epstein of 7th Art Releasing and Hebe Tabachnik, representing the Los Angeles and Palm Springs Film Festivals.

Further, the forum itself has expanded greatly over the past 12 years, truly reflecting the boom in documentary film production that has spread all over the region. The pitching session included projects from Bolivia, Cuba, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and, of course, Argentina—a far cry from the very first edition of Doc Buenos Aires, which included only Argentine productions alongside one Chilean-Argentine co-production!

The forum also had two other significant expansions: 1) A "Doc in Progress" sidebar was launched to show a handful of films that are in post-production; 2) the forum/market was held in the same space as Ventana Sur, the largest film market in Latin America, organized by the Cannes Festival, Marche du Film and INCAA (the Argentine National Film Institute). Having the Ventana Sur market literally just upstairs allowed producers and directors much greater opportunities to meet with representatives who came from all over Europe, South America and North America, and allowed for more mixing between documentary and fiction film production.

While there were many awards given at the end of the three-day event, the biggest winner during the pitching sessions was Las Flores del Pepe (The Flowers of Pepe Mujica), which follows José Mujica, the current president of Uruguay—dubbed "the poorest president in the world" by the North American and European press--in his daily life over the final two years of his presidency. Filmmakers Ramiro Ozer Ami and Sebastian Mayayo caused great excitement during the pitching session with their five-minute trailer, which showed humor and intimate access to the Uruguayan president, who makes for a fascinating documentary subject: a former guerilla fighter and ex-Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries who is a vegetarian and donates 90 percent of his monthly salary to organizations that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs. (And to give a visual sense of the film: rather than living in the presidential palace, Mujica lives on his wife's modest flower farm on the outskirts of Montevideo and drives an old Volkswagen Beetle!)


Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, subject of Ramiro Ozer Ami and Sebastian Mayayo's work-in-progress, Las Flores del Pepe.


The controversy that generated a very energetic and heated debate during the pitching session was over a production decision by the filmmakers: They will finish the film at the end of Mujica's presidential term in 2014 (Mujica announced that he will only serve one term.) and not before. A number of decision-makers argued that this documentary should be completed while Mujica is still in office because it would generate greater interest for the film, while others argued that this was just a marketing decision and that the filmmakers should take the time they needed.

The debate went well past the ten minutes of presentation time allowed for the pitch, and continued informally during the coffee break. Ozer Ami and Mayayo said that their decision was something they would not compromise on, for two reasons: First, the film is about Mujica's term in office and finishing it sooner would mean creating a false ending, and second, they did not want clips from their film to be used politically against Mujica while he is president. Bruni Burres said they should definitely apply for production funding from Sundance during the next cycle, and a number of producers followed them to discuss possibilities for co-production. (The filmmakers have requested that the production companies not be discussed as no deals have been reached at the time of this writing.)

Las flores del Pepe won the ONF/NFB Award from the National Film Board of Canada, a $5,000 cash award. Other awards winners included Hotel Nueva Isla, by Irene Gutierrez and Javier Labrador of Cuba; the Tribeca Fund-supported Bolivian film Cuando los muertos están más secos (When the Dead are Drier), by Claudio Araya Silva; La Quebrada (The Fissure), by Felipe Cordero of Ecuador; and Argentine Maximiliano Pelosi´s Asuntos de familia (A Gay Family). For a full list of award-winners go to


Some of the award-winning filmmakers at Doc Buenos Aires--left to right: Claudio Araya Silva (director, Cuando los muertos están más secos); Irene Gutierrez (director, Hotel Nueva Isla), Ramiro Ozer Ami (co-director, Las flores del Pepe); and Sebastian Mayayo (co-director,  Las flores del Pepe).


Richard Shpuntoff is a documentary filmmaker and translator who lives in Buenos Aires and New York City.