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Docs on the Latin Side: Buenos Aires Hosts Nonfiction Forum

By Richard Shpuntoff

One of the most important events for documentary film production in Latin America, Doc Buenos Aires expanded its program significantly this past year in a way that is sure to facilitate documentary co-production between Latin America and North America (as well as Europe). Working with the renowned French festival Sunny Side of the Doc, the organizers of the Argentine documentary forum created a hybrid program entitled Latin Side of the Doc /Doc BsAs, which for the first time included participation by non-Latin American projects looking for funding, co-production, distribution and sales.

Doc Buenos Aires was founded in 2000 by the Argentine production company Cine Ojo with support from INCAA (the Argentine National Film Institute), the French Embassy and the Documentary Department of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first edition of Doc Buenos Aires was largely about Argentine production, though it included the participation of two Chilean projects. Non-Latin Americans who participated in the forum, including most notably Yves Jeanneau of Sunny Side of the Doc, served as judges in the production competitions or came to learn about and support Latin American production. By the forum's eighth edition (reported in the November 2008 Documentary e-zine), the participating projects came from all over Latin America--ten nations, including Colombia, Bolivia, Cuba and Brazil--and the program was receiving great support from many non-Latin American nations as well as participation of representatives of US organizations, but the idea was still essentially one-way: support for and interest in documentaries made by Latin American filmmakers.

With the expanded ninth edition, projects selected to compete for funding, support and pre-sales, as well as participate in the forum's other programs, came from England, France, Italy and the US, as well as a good number of Latin American nations. Further, a couple dozen non-selected projects, including two by American filmmakers, were able to participate in the non-competitive sessions such as one-on-one meetings with producers, panel discussions and mixers.


A one-on-one meeting in session at Latin Side of the Doc/Doc Buenos Aires.


Filmmaker and producer Carmen Guarini, one of the founders of Doc Buenos Aires, maintains that the decision to include non-Latin American filmmakers offers two things to Latin America: First, it allows local filmmakers to compete at the level of their peers in other regions, and second, it allows local and regional television programmers greater opportunities for purchasing regional rights to air a greater diversity of non-Latin American films.

Rachel Lears had a very positive experience through the forum's one-on-one meetings pitching her feature-length Birds of Passage, an intimate portrait of two young singer-songwriters who move from small Uruguayan towns and struggle to pursue their musical careers in the capital city of Montevideo while trying to hold onto their artistic visions and the cultural roots that feed their music.

Lears explains that finding someone to bring this to a US audience is "definitely a challenge because most people don't even know where Uruguay is, but through the meetings I have been participating in this year in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, I've grown really excited about networks outside the United States because I think there is a lot more openness to global stories beyond ones that touch on national news headlines." Lears and her Uruguayan co-producer are currently in the process of negotiating broadcast rights with representatives from channels in Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina.

Yves Jeanneau, who proposed the expanded program to Guarini and Doc Buenos Aires co-founder Marcelo Cespedes, felt the timing was right, and that this event was the fruit of many years of building technical capacity and a better understanding of the international markets on the part of Latin American filmmakers and producers. "We couldn't have offered this same quality of project five years ago," Guarini notes. "And a program like this would not have moved any foreign commissioning editors or programmers. I think what we have demonstrated in this edition is a diversity and a maturity as much in ideas as in the quality of the event."


Yves Jeanneau of Sunny Side of the Doc, who proposed the idea of Latin Side of the Doc.



Cynthia Kane, program manager for ITVS' International Initiative, made her third visit to Argentina to attend the forum. "I think the quality was really high," she says. "I've been to other pitching forums where people just weren't this well prepared. I loved the one-on-one meetings and stayed as late as they would let me in order to take meetings with everyone I could."

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Robin Blotnick came to the forum with Gods and Kings, about a town in the highlands of Guatemala where modern-day Mayan people have incorporated characters from US and global popular culture like Homer Simpson and Chucky (the murderous horror film doll) into their traditional religious festivals. "The idea of the film is that modern Mayans are adapting to globalization in the same way that they adapted to the Spanish conquest--by syncretizing with it, by taking images and incorporating them into their existing world views," he explains. "In that way, it's as much a film about my own culture as it is about this other culture."

While Blotnick is just beginning post-production, he felt that the forum was very exciting and educational, giving him a good sense of some of the opportunities for his film outside the US. Sitting in a Buenos Aires café on a break from the day's events, he nicely summed up the air of cooperation that pervaded the forum: "Part of what I've learned in making my film is that people in small mountain villages in Guatemala are extremely curious about the United States of America, just like we are about them, and there's something great about creating dialog any way you can."


Richard Shpuntoff is a filmmaker in Buenos Aires. He works as a writer and translator specializing in film and film production. You can bug him at .