Alex Garcia, Founder of Pioneering Sales Agent FiGa Films, Dies at 56

Alex Garcia, an editor-turned-sales agent who helped transform the film industry fortunes of Latin America, died May 26 of complications from lung cancer. He was 56.

Born and raised in Miami by Cuban parents, Garcia studied at UCLA and graduated in film studies from Columbia College. He spent 25 years as a film editor, working with Steve Spielberg’s three-times Oscar winning editor Michael Kahn and on independent productions.

Meeting Sandro Fiorin, who became his partner in business and life, in 2006 Garcia and Fiorin launched FiGa Films – hence its moniker – to discover and distribute the best of young Latin American talent, distributing their films in the U.S. and selling them to international markets.

Nowadays, many sales companies try to have at least one Latin American title on their books. But when Fiorin and Garcia launched FiGa Films at the Sundance Festival in 2006, the idea of a sales company focusing on Latin America was almost unknown. FiGa Films proved, however, to be one of the earliest instances of industry recognition towards the export viability of films from Latin America, to which it lent its own momentum.

As wave after wave of films from new Latin American directors hit festivals from mid-last decade, FiGa’s core specialist business proved almost inevitably to be the first features or early films of up-and-coming talent. Films Garcia took on included Mexican Yulene Olazoila’s 2008 “Intimacies of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo,” 2010’s “A Useful Life” and 2015’s “The Apostate,” both from Federico Veiroj, as well as Anna Muylaert’s 2011 “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Neighboring Sounds,” released in 2012.

FiGa soon gained a reputation for taking on films which other sales agents might love but never think of selling, and spreading its net wider to than other agents to Bolivia (Martin Boulocq’s “Los viejos”), Central America (Costa Rican Paz Fabrega’s 2015 Tribeca hit, “Viaje”) and regional Brazil, whether Pernambuco (“Neighboring Sounds,” “August Winds”) or Puerto Alegre (“Castanha”).

The six titles in a 2013 tribute by Ventana Sur to FiGa Films, the first of its kind, “represent something new, an unknown director, a novel narrative, something different,” Garcia wrote with Fiorin in an introduction to the homage.

A former teacher of editing at Columbia College, and a self-confessed admirer of classic films, Broadway musicals and cats, Garcia took on films which straddled the borders between documentary and film (“Marimbas in Hell,” “Castanha”), explored social setting in preference to character (“August Winds”) and avoided traditional story drive.

FiGa Films placed their films in such festivals as, just in the U.S., Sundance, SXSW, and Tribeca. They won multiple festival plaudits, from San Sebastian’s top Golden Shell for “Bad Hair” in 2013 to a Rotterdam Tiger for “Thursday Through Sunday” a year before. The last prize for a film Garcia handled came at Cannes this May, the best documentary Prix de l’Oeil d’Or for Eric Rocha’s “Cinema Novo.” Five of the 10 last winners of Toulouse’s CineLatino Festival were FiGa titles. They were rarely easy sells. Some broke out, however: “Bad Hair” sold 32 territories in all.

But Garcia’s contribution to Latin American films was larger. Considerably older and far more experienced than most of the young tyro directors he worked with, he served as a mentor to many young filmmakers. bringing his editor’s experience to help mould their films. He also helped Figa transform rapidly into a company which was far more than a simple sales agent, helping filmmakers to find production partners, advising through the post-production process, finding further funding at work-in-progress competitions, securing vital festival slots and advising on films releases, working sales on a film for years, down to second TV windows.

Doing so, he helped dozens of filmmakers hone their craft as we’ll as develop a consciousness of a world which was avid for their films, however niche the audiences, beyond their native countries. The explosion of world cinema on the world stage is one of cinema’s most recent revolutions, in which Garcia played his part.

“Alex Garcia was a generous and kind-hearted person, a lover and supporter of cinema who championed filmmakers and their films, who, along with his partner of many years, Sandro Fiorin, devoted his life to cinema and culture,” said Diana Sanchez, the Toronto Festival’s programmer for Spain, Portugal and Latin America and Panama Festival artistic director.

Garcia is survived by Fiorin, his spouse, plus an older sister and brother.

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