Report from the Buenos Aires LAB

By Richard Shpuntoff

Founded in 2003 by its co-directors Violeta Bava – an Argentine film producer and programmer for BAFICI (the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival), – and Ilse Hughan – a Dutch film producer who serves on the selection committee for the Hubert Bals Fund – the Buenos Aires Lab (BAL) recently held its ninth edition with the theme "Less is much more BAL" and a selection of 22 films from nine Latin American nations.

The BAL, which operates within the framework of BAFICI, supports the work of independent Latin American producers and directors by offering them a platform to present their projects at various stages to a range of people from the industry: distributors, film festival programmers, and foreign co-producers, among others. In its first couple of years, one of the sections of the BAL, the Work in Progress, was almost exclusively focused on Argentine film, with some representation from Chile and Uruguay, and looked to build bridges for emerging filmmakers to connect them to the European film markets.

Since then, Hughan and Bava have managed to evolve their program into a truly pan-Latin American event. “The production landscape has changed enormously since we founded BAL. Back then there were no other production labs in Latin American, and since then new labs have been created in festivals in Guadalajara and Valdivia, among others. Funding was more plentiful and film production in some nations like Paraguay, Bolivia and Guatemala was practically non-existent,” the directors explained.

"While originally we were looking to teach Latin American producers and directors how to co-produce their films and build relationships with the European film industry, BAL now is looking to promote the building of connections and support within the region, also. We are looking to foster co-productions that function not just at the financial level, but also at the creative level. For the BAL to continue to be relevant it needs to change to meet the current needs of everyone in the industry."

With this in mind, the directors reconfigured some aspects of the BAL, transforming the "One-on-one" meetings, which were basically short private pitching sessions, into small roundtables in which two films are presented to a range of industry people with a moderator to help the conversation stay focused within a thirty minute timeframe. The idea, which Bava and Hughan originally tried out when they served as directors to the production lab at FICCO, is more of a conversation, less of a pitching. One of the goals, which they achieved, was for everyone attending the BAL to meet everyone else, literally.

Martin Schweighofer, the managing director of the Austrian Film Commission who served as one of the moderators, pointed out how over the course of the meetings the presenters began to actually collaborate on their presentations with each other, even sharing a single computer to present materials. In other sessions, Ankara Mastits, a distributor with Pretty Pictures, urged presenters that despite the obvious pressures, "You shouldn’t think about what I, as a distributor, like. You need to make the film you want to make."

The spirit of true co-production could also be seen in the CPH:LAB section of the BAL. The LAB, co-sponsored by the BAL with CPH:DOX International Film Festival, brings together European and non-European filmmakers and producers to collaborate on a film. Gustavo Beck of Brazil and Željka Suková of Croatia presented some clips from their film in production, Approaches, which aims to create a visual dialogue between the two filmmakers through their different methods of approaching each other's worlds. In a very different vein, Fia-Stina Sandlund of Sweden and Alejo Moguillansky of Argentina discussed a fictional film, L.N. Alem, that they are building based on their disagreements about what to film.

At the end of the three days of discussions and presentations, twelve of the films received a range of awards including a pre-sale of $5,000 to Mantarraya for distribution in Mexico, which went to Jazmín López’s Leones, and post-production services from Sinsistema which went to Lina Rodríguez’s Señoritas.

The complete list of awards is as follows:
Agua (Bolivia) – Diego Mondaca, director / producer – Cinecolor Award and Kodak Award.
Chico ventana también quisiera tener un submarino (Uruguay) – Alex Piperno, director, Luka Valenta Rinner, producer – Binger Filmlab Award.
Elon Rabin não acredita na morte (Brazil) – Ricado Alves Jr., director, Thiago Macêdo Correia and Morgana Rissinger – FIDLAB Award
Hasta el sol tiene manchas (Guatemala) – Julio Hernández Cordón, director, Pamela Guinea, producer – Producers Network Award (for the producer) and CPH:DOX Award (for the director).
La helada negra (Argentina) - Maximiliano Schonfeld, director, Bárbara Francisco and Fernando Brom, producers – International Relations ARTE Prize, Eu 6.000.-
Leones (Argentina) – Jazmín López, director, Benjamín Domenech and Santiago Gallelli,
producers –Mantarraya Award.
Quiero vivir su vida (Chile, France) – Luis Cifuentes, director, Margarita Donoso and Stéphane Zajdenweber, producer – Producers Network Award (for producer Stéphane Zajdenweber).
Señoritas (Colombia) – Lina Rodríguez, director, Lina Rodríguez and John Bradley Deane, producers – Sinsistema Award.
Tanta Agua (Uruguay) – Leticia Jorge and Ana Guevara, directors, and Agustina Chiarino, producer – Estudio Ñandu Award.
Viejo Calavera (Bolivia) – Kiro Russo, director / producer – Lahaye Award
Viola (Argentina) – Matías Piñeiro, director, Matías Piñeiro and Melanie Schapiro, producers –Cinecolor Award and Tauro Digital Award

Pictures: Top (from left to right): Ilse Hughan, Violeta Bava, Sergio Wolf and Jazmín López. Bottom (from left to right): Benjamín Domenech, Jazmín López and Santiago Gallelli. Photos courtesy of BAFICI.