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Latin Side of the Doc (Part Two)

December 11, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Click here for the first installment of her two-part post.)

Latin_doc An all-day "webdoc" workshop at Latin Side of the Doc led by Hugues Sweeney, an advisor for digital programming at the National Film Board of Canada, stressed the possibilities of interactive documentaries. "Twenty percent of our shows are now interactive," Sweeney told those in attendance. "For documentaries, the Web can be more than just a dissemination avenue; it represents a merger of the traditional documentary form and a new interactive model." Indeed, the NFB Web site encourages people to "enjoy documentaries, animations, alternative dramas and interactive productions on the Web, on your personalized home page, or on your iPhone."

Various interactive sites were highlighted during the workshop, including the delightful Save the Words site developed by Oxford Dictionaries. With hundreds of words dropping out of regular usage each year, the site is an advocacy project that aims to save words "that once led meaningful lives," while challenging people to rebuild our shrinking vocabularies. (I guarantee that if you’re reading this, you’ll be hooked by the site.)

World Without Oil, described as a serious game designed to change the world, allows game players to create the "documentary" through e-mails, blog posts, Twitter, videos, and other social media channels. "The public is actively involved and implicated in the work through the act of influencing it," said Sweeney.

Hubert Fiasse, a filmmaker from Brussels, was particularly interested in the NFB workshop because Quizas, his small production company, is planning its first venture into a documentary made specifically for the Web. "It's complicated," Fiasse told me, "and very different than a traditional documentary. We're working with an IT person who has experience building Web sites, while we bring the content side."

Fiasse came to Latin Side of the Doc to stay on top of issues addressed by Latin American documentaries; he spent a year living in Mexico and another year traveling in the region, making several short films in the process. Last year, he attended an event in Senegal that was similar to Latin Side. His experiences have convinced him of the value of collaboration with local filmmakers. Indeed, he sees collaboration as an opportunity to help: by partnering with European or North American film companies, producers in developing countries -- where funding is scarce -- become eligible for production funds from governments in the developed world. Quizas, with two finished films to its credit and several more in production, is looking toward the next project. "The most important thing for me is the point of view of the filmmaker, wherever they are," Fiasse tells me. "They have to share my interest in social and political issues and give the subjects their own voices in the documentaries."

Latinside_estrada_fiasse By the end of the week, Fiasse had found a new potential partner in Bolivian filmmaker Sergio Estrada. Estrada worked as a cameraman on documentaries for nearly two decades and formed a production company, Imago, with two other filmmakers in Cochabamba, Bolivia, four years ago. Their first film, Un Dia Mas, is about Bolivians who migrate to the United States for work and the impact of out-migration on their nearly deserted home town of Arbieto. They're now looking for funds to complete Night Inside Me, about miners and the spirits that inhabit the ancient mineshafts of Potosi, Bolivia.

The film received a grant from the Simon I. Patino Foundation, which was established in 1958 by the heirs of a Bolivian industrialist. Based in Geneva, the foundation supports projects in Latin America in the areas of education, culture, health, and ecology, with most funds going to Bolivia. "We are the first film grant the foundation has made, and they've given us 30 percent of the budget," Estrada told me. At Latin Side, Estrada is hoping to find a European or North American producer to partner with on the film. "And I"m looking for pre-sales, just like everyone else here!" He wasn't letting enthusiasm get the better of him, though. "I don't think that will happen this week, but a lot of people are interested. The representative of a French television channel has encouraged me to find a French distributor, which would allow them to consider supporting it. By French law, they can only take on films that have a French principle."

Collaboration with Hubert Fiasse would give Estrada a base for approaching other European funders. They share similar interests and aesthetics, he told me, and have pledged to continue to explore the possibility of collaboration after they leave Buenos Aires.

For French filmmakers Anne Moutot and Muriel Ponsolle, Latin Side of the Doc has been a positive and rewarding experience. Though both have had experience in other production companies, their Calisto Productions is fairly new and has a clear international focus: "We have to go beyond our borders," said Ponsolle. "The tendency in France is to stay inside." Their projects to date underscore that commitment: The Scar, an award-winning TV series, traces the actual path of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe while celebrating the memories and hopes of the people who lived on both sides of the divide. Another, a portrait of the Egyptian singer George Moustaki, will air next spring.

Latinside_moutot_ponsolle Calisto's current project, Adios Muchachos: Nicaragua, a Stolen Revolution, will follow three former revolutionaries turned dissidents under the Ortega government as the country prepares for presidential elections in 2011. Moutot and Ponsolle applied to Latin Side to pitch the film, but theirs was among the hundreds not selected (only twelve European projects were featured). They were, however, invited to attend and present their film in fifteen-minute individual meetings with broadcasters and funders -- what one participant referred to as the "speed dating" portion of the event.

When I checked in with the Calisto team at the end of the week, they were exhausted but exuberant. "We had twenty meetings in three days!" said Moutot. "Five or six were organized by Latin Side, but we requested the others directly with the decision-makers. Prior to coming here, we identified who we needed to meet and sent them materials by e-mail."

"We're tired but happy," added Ponsolle. "We reached our goal!" The duo secured four firm commitments from broadcasters that would cover half the remaining budget for the film and guarantee its exhibition in Latin America and Europe. "Of course, we don't have the signed contracts yet, so we'll follow up over the next week," said Moutot, "but we're very optimistic." They also met a producer from the U.S. who's a potential partner and who eventually could lead them to other U.S. broadcasters and funders.

"All the key players are here," said Moutot, "so there's also the opportunity for informal discussions; they talk among themselves, recommending projects to each other. Even the French broadcasters were easier to meet with here than in Paris!"

According to Yves Jeanneau, a French film producer who, with the help of Argentine partner INCAA (National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts), launched Latin Side last year, the reports he was hearing by the end of the event were very positive. "We're still expecting confirmations, but based on what I've heard from the decision-makers and some of the producers, many projects have gotten support. Nothing was signed here, of course, but decisions really were made." He mentioned that NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, made five pre-sales decisions and was considering another two projects. "It was a very active marketplace," said Jeanneau, "much more than last year in any market. It seems the financial crisis is no longer a reason for delaying decisions. This is the best news from Latin Side of the Doc!"

Documentary filmmakers everywhere hope he's right.

-- Kathryn Pyle

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