Good Pitch, Latin Style
The central idea of Good Pitch—building support and connections for documentary film that can make a significant impact on social issues—is hardly new for Latin American film. As far back as the late 1950s, Fernando Birri's work with film students in the shantytowns of Rosario, Argentina, put a focus on social issues that were completely ignored by the media at the time. And Patricio Guzman's landmark trilogy, The Battle of Chile (La batalla de Chile, 1975-79), about the military coup that violently put an end to the democratically elected social government of Salvador Allende, became an important tool among international human rights movements. More recently, Enrique Piñeyro has been exemplary with films that have had a direct impact on Argentine aviation safety legislation (Fuerza aérea sociedad anónima, 2006) and, in 2010, a film that focuses on arrests of innocent people by corrupt police (El Rati Horror Show) that has become central evidence in a criminal case.
However, as film production has increased in the region over the past decade, while traditional distribution channels have become more limited, it has become even more difficult for documentary films to reach their target audiences and create social impact. With this reality in mind, Good Pitch organized its first Latin American edition on Saturday, August 10, in Buenos Aires, within the framework of Argentina's international human rights film festival, DerHumALC XV.
The program presented four films covering a broad range of subjects: territorial conflicts in the north of Argentina (Territorios, by Julian Perini Pazos); the negative impact of US free trade agreements on small farmers in Colombia (Victoria Solano's 9.70); the struggles of a girls soccer team in one of Buenos Aires's poorest shantytowns (Mujeres con pelotas by Gabriel Balanovsky and Ginger Gentile); and the story of generations coming together as part of the free public education movement in Chile (Edison Cajas' El vals de los inútiles).
Headed by Bruni Burres of Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Patricia Finneran of BRITDOC, and with strong support from festival director Florencia Santucho and the DerHumALC XV staff, the Good Pitch team convoked an important representation from NGOs, academia, government and the film world to the table to discuss and pledge support for these films. In the case of El vals de los inútiles, for example, support was offered from Argentina's National Institute of Human Rights, the Argentine University Federation and Latin American School of Social Sciences (FLACSO).
The presentation for El vals de los inútiles (The Waltz of the Useless) was particularly powerful not only because of its aesthetic beauty and emotional material, but also because the film's theme was underscored by two factors—one, unlike in Chile, where education was heavily privatized under the military regime of Pinochet, Argentina has a strong tradition of public education that has attracted thousands of university students from all over Latin America including Chile, a fact that was very present with everyone in the Good Pitch audience, and at the table. Second, one of the two main characters of the film was tortured during the Pinochet dictatorship, and the pitches were held, not at all by coincidence, at the Memory and Human Rights Space (el Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos, ex-ESMA), housed in the former detention and torture center that was the Argentine Navy School of Mechanics.
Finally, it is important to note the presence of Good Pitch veterans Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis, who were on hand to share their experiences as part of the pitch training workshops that were organized for the participating producers and directors. Their film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator won the Grand Prize at the DerHumALC XV festival.
Richard Shpuntoff is a documentary filmmaker and translator who lives in Buenos Aires and New York City.