Jorge Estrada Mora, a cosmopolitan, multifaceted and enterprising producer who helped take Argentina cinema onto the world stage, died Dec. 9 from a prostate tumor. He was 68.
From the get-go, Estrada Mora’s life and cinema knew few borders. He was born in Colombia, in the Antioquia highlands, educated at Washington and Lee University in Virginia – going on to serve on its board until 2012 — worked in the oil business for Geosource in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Kenya, and settled in Argentina.
It was from Argentina, that he launched an effective second career as a film producer, emerging from the get-go as one of its internationally most ambitious producers.
Among early productions, all set up at Buenos Aires’ Jempsa — which he founded in 1987 — 1987’s “Under the Earth,” from Beda Docampo Feijoo, was set in Poland; 1988’s “Southbound,” from Juan Bautista Stagnaro, shot in Yugoslavia; “The Loves of Kafka,” also Docampo’s, in Czechoslovakia; Jeanine Meerapfel’s 1989 “The Girlfriend,” co-produced with Germany and co-written by Agnieszka Holland, brought Liv Ullmann to Buenos Aires; “Warriors and Prisoners,” co-produced with France, starred Dominique Sarda; the English-language “The Perfect Husband,” a riff on Dostoevsky texts, toplined Tim Roth.
Though his friendships crossed a broad political spectrum, when producing films in overseas places and with international talent Estrada Mora skirted neither the Argentine Junta’s Dirty War nor other political issues. “The Girlfriend” portrayed the Dirty War’s impact on two women’s lifelong friendship, which is strained by one woman’s years-long search for her son who disappeared under Argentina’s military dictatorship. Set against the background of Holocaust, World War II drama “Under the Earth” follows a Jewish family in hiding in Poland, desperately attempting to avoid deportation.
From the late ’90s, Estrada Mora found the perfect alliance for his international ambitions: Juan Jose Campanella, with whom he teamed to produce in 1997 the noirish English-language “Love Walked In,” then four further films made out of Argentina in Spanish, three starring Ricardo Darin and Eduardo Blanco comprising a loose-knit humor-laced trilogy. “Same Love, Same Rain” (1999), “The Son of the Bride” (2001) and “Moon of Avallaneda” (2004) drill down on men’s midlife crises: Their struggle to let go of childhood passions, whether a sports club or the family restaurant; guilt at being bad sons or fathers; dismay at not achieving their professional dreams; and above all, an inability to commit in relationships. Using an Argentine background, but exploring a universal emotional idiom, the trilogy put Campanella and Estrada Mora on the international map.
It may be little coincidence that their final film together, 2013’s “Underdogs” was made in the most international of film types, animation. It weighed in as Latin America’s biggest toon feature ever, was co-produced with Spain and had as its background the world’s most international sport: soccer. Turning on Foosball figures who come alive to help their lifelong player save his village and conquer his childhood love, “Underdogs” initiated Argentina’s still young tradition of local blockbusters, grossing $14.3 million, and sold worldwide.
“Jorge was an excellent producer and a much better friend. Of good taste, a gentleman, you would always savor chatting with him, about the world, politics and, why not, cinema,” Campanella said.
“I’d like to say of him the best one can say of a producer and friend: He was always there for the failures. He never complained about missteps: We’d immediately begin a new project, or a new conversation. Those who know about cinema will understand when I say that Jorge was the George Bailey of my life.”
With Campanella, Gaston Gorali and Roberto Schroeder, Estrada Mora launched MundoLoco Animation Studios, which announced a three-series deal with Discovery Kids and Cris Morena at 2015’s Mipcom and is shaping up as one of Latin America’s most important animation hubs. Estrada Mora also helped launch housing developments, opinion polls – with Enrique Zuleta Puceiro and Sofres-Ibope – and grew grapes for wine in Mendoza and, in a bold leap of the imagination, in Mar del Plata, never a traditional wine area. From 2010, he also served as an honorary consul for Singapore in Argentina.
Jorge Estrada Mora is survived by his wife, Nancy O’Toole, and their five children Annie, Carolina, Juan, Estefania and Javier.