PANAMA CITY — Mexican documentary filmmaker Everardo Gonzalez is attending IFF Panama for screenings of his multiple award-winning doc “Devil’s Freedom” and as tutor at the fest’s Documentary Workshop, working in conjunction with Campus Latino’s Bettina Walter, Toronto’s documentary programmer, Thom Powers.
“Devil’s Freedom,” a harrowing documentary on Mexico’s drug wars, won top kudos at Los Angeles and Guadalajara.
Gonzalez says that he now wants to change tack in his next project, “El Vientre Yermo” (Sterile womb), that explores hidden life in 10 deserts around the world. He has already explored the universe of the Mexican desert in his 2012 documentary “Drought, but this project focuses on the positive signs of life found in the desert.
He feels that the project is almost a cleansing experience after delving into the psychological and emotional horrors of Mexico’s drug wars in “Devil.”
The shoot includes deserts in Namibia, Mexico, Australia, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, the Moroccan Sahara, and the Navaho people in Arizona.
“It’s been a magical experience, living with nomadic tribes, seeing the beauty that exists in the real world.”
IFF Panama’s three-day Documentary Workshop, fully funded by Goethe-Institut Mexico and now in its second edition, has ten projects – 3 from Mexico, 3 from Panama and 4 from Central America.
Gonzalez says that he has focused on three elements during the workshop: Character, story world and plot.
“Filmmakers often confuse documentaries with journalism and social anthropology, and this takes people away from cinemas. Everyone forgets the importance of plot. My main task is to try to help people find the plot, and find the dramatic force in reality.”
Gonzalez said that Mexico has succeeded in producing more crossover documentaries in recent years, through the combination of a new generation of filmmakers and festivals such as Docs MX and Ambulante.
“Without planning for this, we suddenly started to create better audiences and now we have packed audiences watching feature documentaries.”
He says that examples of powerful documentaries produced in Mexico in recent years, include Tatiana Huezo’s “Tempestad”, Olivia Luengas’ “Lejos del Sentido” (Away from Meaning) winner of the Tribeca/NF prize, and Martin Benchimol’s and Pablo Aparo’s “El Espanto.” Examples from neighboring countries take in Jorge Caballero’s hospital-set “Paciente” (Colombia) and Johanné Gómez Terrero’s “Caribbean Fantasy” (Dominican Republic).
Gonzalez thinks that the biggest challenge facing documentary filmmakers from the region is how to access the international market.
Thom Powers said that he was keen to participate in the workshop in order to expand his expertise.
In terms of current market trends, Powers focused on the booming interest in doc series.
“Everyone has Netflix on their mind. But the widespread feeling is that the gate hasn’t yet opened for Latin American content. My prediction is that in the next couple of years, we will see a Spanish language documentary that will be an international sensation. Then everyone will want more.”
Powers cited films such as María José Cuevas’ “Bellas de Noche” and Gustavo Salmerón’s “Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle,” that show the potential of cross-over documentaries.
He stressed that Netflix and its competitors are looking for documentaries, with strong characters, high production values and tightly-knit narratives, and above all need original and fresh approaches that can cater to different audiences across the globe.
Powers believes that there will be further new entrants commissioning projects in the documentary market, including Facebook, YouTube and Apple, citing the example of Facebook’s 2017 documentary series, “Humans of New York.”
Rodolfo Castillo-Morales, coordinator of DOCS MX who participated in the workshop with his project “The Kids of a Happy World,” said that he’s impressed by the visceral filmmaking style of Central American filmmakers.
Spanning topics such as sexual abuse, electoral fraud, pirate radio and gentrification, the projects presented in this year’s workshop have potential to spark the interest of the global market, said Bettina Walter.
She is now finalizing the financing of the second edition of Campus Latino, a one-year four-stage documentary development initiative, which had its first edition in 2017.
The second edition is once again an initiative of the Goethe-Institut and Documentary Campus, involving partners in Panama, Mexico, Chile and Brazil and a leading European market, and will involve a multi-skilled team of experts including Everardo Gonzalez, Maite Alberdi, Gema Juarez Allen, Sarah Mosses, Paola Castillo, Fernanda Rossi, Fernando Dias at Grifa Filmes and Charlotte Uzu, at Les Films d’Ici.