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Latin Side of the Doc (Part One)

December 09, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the Art of Memory.)

Latin_doc Documentary film producers from Latin America and Europe gathered last week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the second annual "Latin Side of the Doc," a four-day meet-up where independent filmmakers "pitch" their projects to European and North American broadcasters, distributors, and funders.  About 175 films -- all in the initial stages of development -- were presented, and I was there.

The documentaries are a window into the great and small issues of the region. Like the story from Bolivia of a member of the indigenous Aymara community who, when young, was forbidden by the government to learn Spanish, and his grandson, the filmmaker, who speaks Spanish but has never learned Aymara. The film promises to be a universal story of family and identity but also a particularly Latin American story of discrimination and assimilation.

"There is enormous talent and great ideas for documentaries in Latin America," said Yves Jeanneau, a French film producer who, with the help of Argentine partner INCAA (National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts), launched the event last year. Latin Side of the Doc is the latest iteration, along with Asian Side of the Doc (also in its second year), of Sunny Side of the Doc, which Jeanneau created twenty-three years ago in La Rochelle, France.

In recent years, Sunny Side of the Doc has attracted over two thousand participants from more than fifty countries and has begun to feature a panel on foundation support for documentaries. Indeed, some corporate foundations in Europe are supporting documentaries that explore themes, like the environment, that align with the parent corporation's interests, while others are becoming more aware of the power of documentaries to educate the public about specific issue areas.

"The challenge for documentary filmmakers in the developing world is the lack of financing,” Jeanneau explained during a break in the conference as we strolled along the canal in the city's recently revived Puerto Madera section. "But filmmakers need exposure to other aspects of the business, too."

Sunny Side of the Doc, and its spinoffs, Latin Side and Asian Side, provide training on such practical aspects of filmmaking as contracts and archival rights, as well as workshops on new media and its applications for documentaries. An all-day session at this year's Latin Side event focused on Web-based documentaries and was aimed primarily at younger filmmakers.

"I'm a bridge builder," said Jeanneau. "I tell the filmmakers who come to these events, 'Don't just look for the pre-sales to broadcasters!' The real payoff is to find European and Latin American producers you can partner with and to find the broadcasters and distributors you can work with in the long term. Latin American filmmakers can find collaborators at this meeting -- both from Europe and from Latin America -- that they can work with. Stronger production companies are what's needed. That's what I hope will come out of this week."

According to Marcelo Cespedes, who heads up "DOC BsAs," the annual documentary film festival in Buenos Aires, and is local manager of Latin Side of the Doc, more than four hundred proposals were received from filmmakers this year. Twelve films from Latin America and twelve from Europe (with a Latin American theme) were selected for the "pitch" sessions -- fifteen-minute presentations before an audience of decision-makers, who weigh in with questions and comments, indicating their interest, or lack thereof. While it's nerve-racking for the filmmakers, it's a way to get their projects noticed, and they can potentially walk away with commitments in hand -- although, as Jeanneau says, that's rare.

In addition to those selected to pitch, a hundred and fifty applicants were selected for one-on-one meetings with various decision-makers. In all, about three hundred people attended this year's event, double the number who attended the inaugural event last year.

Latin Side of the Doc unfolded like a good documentary, with fascinating characters and lots of drama. Did any of the projects get funded? Were any new partnerships forged? I'll let you know in a followup post over the weekend.

-- Kathryn Pyle

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