Expanding Frontiers in a Pandemic World, an online Sanfic Industry panel discussion held March 23, can likely be summed up by a Charles Dickens quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”

Moderated by Storyboard Media producer Gabriela Sandoval, co-founder of the Santiago, Chile-based Sanfic, the panelists included Guadalajara Film Festival head Estrella Araiza, Ventana Sur co-executive director Bernardo Bergeret and Mar del Plata executive producer Alejandro Puente, Juliana Ortiz of the Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM) in Colombia, new Guadalajara Market head Ximena Urrutia and Ben Lopez, executive director of U.S.-based Latino producers’ org, NALIP.

Here are five takeaways from the lively 90-minute discussion:

Last year was chaotic      

An understatement for everyone. For Guadalajara, the lockdown in Mexico began on March 20, the day the festival was supposed to kick off. “It was our 35th anniversary and there was no way we could cancel,” said Araiza who recalled that plane tickets had already been bought for some guests. “It was a disaster,” she exclaimed. But as the conditions got worse, they opted for a hybrid event in November. Ortiz pointed out that BAM was the first Latin American confab to go virtual last year, and to accommodate people who were adjusting to altered home lives, online schooling etc., they expanded the event to two weeks in order to give participants more breathing room, “making it less intense.” “We were in denial,” said Bergeret who thought the COVID-19 pandemic would be over by the time Ventana Sur kicked off in November.  NALIP also considered canceling but instead expanded its annual event from three to six days, per Lopez.

But there was a silver lining

When air travel, lodgings and other economic and logistical concerns were eliminated, all these events saw participation grow exponentially. Not having to deal with costly LA’s notorious traffic and parking challenges also became a plus, Lopez pointed out. Everyone reported record attendance. According to Puente, the Mar del Plata Festival normally lures 100,000 people who come to see the films and participate in the talks. But last year, attendance doubled as more students, indie producers and others who normally can’t afford the time or expense to visit the coastal Argentine event, the continent’s only “A” category festival, logged in to watch the films, made available across Argentina.

A glut of projects

With most principal photography suspended in 2020, there is now an excess of projects that are either partly finished or stuck in development hell. More projects are flooding Guadalajara’s Work in Progress and other sections, said Urrutia. According to Bergeret, Ventana Sur section El Principio del Film, aimed at scriptwriters, has received a boatload of scripts, 300% more than average.

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Bernardo Bergeret, Ximena Urrutia and Juliana Ortiz Courtesy of SANFIC

More women, more diversity

Guadalajara’s 2020 hybrid Co-Production Meetings saw more than half of the projects led by female directors, with just as many women producers. “We made it our mission to have more women in all the sections of the festival, especially for projects in development,” said Araiza who was astounded at the lack of gender parity among the films when she took over the reins of the festival in 2019. BAM has introduced a program that fosters works from indigenous and other minority groups, said Ortiz. “The key word is ‘belonging’ as it’s not just diversity we’re after,” Lopez asserted who added that NALIP’s motto is #WeAreInclusion and that its Diverse Women in Media initiative encompasses not only Latinas but also Asians, transgenders, African-Americans and other minority groups.

More tech-savvy. More connected

Sandoval concluded that the biggest takeaway from this panel was that the pandemic may have forced more people to go online – and grow more tech-savvy in the process – but they have also “become more connected than ever.” We need to create a permanent platform such as this where we can regularly exchange ideas, experiences and information from now on.”