Documentary Track at NALIP's Latino Producers Academy

By Kimberly Bautista

In a hotel room turned editing suite at the Lodge at Santa Fe, Chunky producer/director Paul Espinosa, a veteran Chicano filmmaker, takes notes and editor Ignacio Lozano scrolls and clicks through the timeline as editor mentor Tom Haneke, an Academy Award winner, recites transcripts and gives tips on sound editing. "He has an extraordinary memory," says Ignacio of Tom. "He's able to go back and pull from little parts of the story to add to the bigger picture." A debate ensues of whether to allow the chronology or the themes to dictate the story, followed by Tom's suggestion for an archival music montage, and a comment on how they should argue fair use to license the music. "We should hire Kristy Guevara-Flanagan's lawyer!" Paul jokes, in reference to the guest speaker's inspiring presentation on the making of her film Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

Six documentary teams are in the midst of receiving and implementing critical restructuring notes from some of the giants of the documentary world and they have convened in Santa Fe under the instruction of Richard Saiz, LPA Program Director and formerly of ITVS, and Beni Matias, Acting Executive Director of NALIP. This intensive space is for films that are at various stages in the editing process. Most of the films have completed production, and some are currently pin-pointing what else they need before they return to the field. 

Richard Saiz says "the work we're doing here at the LPA takes 9 to 12 months, and we're doing it in 9 days." He, Matías, and producer mentor Peter Miller check in on all the documentary teams on their final full day of editing. "When the editing started, I loved the idea of walking down the hallway and just popping in to the different edit rooms, what's going on here? What's going on there?" says Saiz with excitement.

Although NALIP's Latino Producers Academy is not unfamiliar to Santa Fe, it's the first year that the majority of the producer/directors' time is spent in the edit suites with their editors and mentors. In previous years, the producers spent most of their time in seminars with guest speakers, but the focus this year is to bring their rough cuts or funding trailers to the next stage in the process. Chelo Alvarez-Stehle attended LPA in 2009, when her film was still in the ingestion stage. She says this year is different because the producers are involved in "a hands-on immersion in the editing." She and editor Marla Ulloa had a transformative experience in working with mentor Ken Schneider. Ken was able to help the team restructure the story and hone in on one central story that moves the documentary forward in a compelling way. They decided to eliminate three characters and story arcs, because they were competing for the viewer's attention. "I came here thinking my film was finished.  It's an amazing process. The film evolves and transforms, and reflects your parallel transformation as a filmmaker." 

Another veteran to the LPA is Mabel Valdiviezo of Prodigal Daughter, who attended the first LPA in 2004 with a fictional script. The guidance that Mabel and her editor Manuel Tsingaris have received from editor mentor Jean- Philippe Bouccicaut has really helped her face some of the biggest challenges in producing a personal story. "He has a great sensibility for really putting himself in the shoes of the character," in this case, the character is the producer/director herself. "I was writing narration more from the head than from the heart. He is bringing us back to that intimate space," says Mabel of Bouccicaut. 

Each team has been assigned an editor mentor. Richard Saiz joked with producer/director David Tamés of Farm and Red Moon over breakfast that he paired him with mentor Herb Ferrette because they were both quirky. "At first it was tough, like breaking into an egg. But then we got through to the warm, gooey center," says David of his collaboration with Ferrette. A huge development for David and his editor Carla Pataky is that their co-director – Audrey Kali -- has emerged as a central character in the documentary, which will allow their issue-driven political story to emerge as a personal story that weaves between the historical and current discussion of the ethical slaughtering of animals. This decision will definitely inform their upcoming shoots as they return to production, as they need more footage highlighting their newly emerged central character. The personal journey will allow this political issue to be more compelling and less didactic, and appeal to a wider audience. 

Another film that is in the early stages of production is Carbon Castaways, with director David Soto-Karlin, producer Aaron Soto-Karlin, and editor Mary Angelica Molina. Producer mentor Peter Miller has been working with all of the teams throughout the week, and reviews footage with Mary Angelica to fine-tune their trailer. He turns to Aaron to ask if he has any b-roll that would work for the segment they are finessing. Mary Angelica says of the producer-mentor Miller, “It’s great to have someone next to you that understands story. He will make people want to write that check--he’s the master of that."  

Peter Miller says that all the films are in different stages, but that the "one overarching need of all the projects is to understand the broader importance of their story, and its bigger context." That, and of course, that they all need funding. He also spoke to the importance of these filmmakers to produce a strong cut, so that they can get funding and prove that their stories are urgent and relevant to a public media audience. 

Miller emphasizes the benefits of the collaborative atmosphere at the Latino Producers Academy. "Independent filmmakers are often super independent. It's unusual to be in a room with a community of professionals that can help solve storytelling problems that are hard to solve in isolation when we're in our cocoons." A highlight for Aaron Soto-Karlin has also been to "meet new friends and develop relationships with new collaborators." Just a couple of months ago, he established friendships with New Media track fellows Elizabeth Ai, Patricia Benabe, Monika Navarro and Dawn Valadez at the CPB/PBS Producers Academy in Boston. A huge take-away for Aaron in Santa Fe will be the production of a clean trailer which will help him and his team in their fundraising goals.

All of the teams are anxiously preparing for their pitch session on this Friday, the 21st.  The Keeping The Faith With Morrie team had an interruption mid-week by a series of technical problems. Mentor Vivien Hillgrove said, "[the editor] Richard [Naranjo] is scrounging up cords and cables, we had to clone the hard drive, the computer blew up, but we're enthused! Our mission is to share the heart of Morrie." Producer/director Angel Harper adds that her main character is her driving force and motivation to stay on track, despite the setbacks: "On a deadline, that's the last thing you need. But like Morrie, we're keeping the faith." 

As we inch closer to the final presentations at LPA, the comraderie and sense of family among the fellows and mentors is eminent. Beni Matias says she’s “amazed at the amount of work that’s gotten done in a short amount of time. For many of our Latino filmmakers, it’s rare they have the opportunity to work with A-list filmmakers.” Throughout the course of just over a week, the films have moved from programs that have local appeal to programs that have a national (and perhaps international) appeal. “That’s what they sent out to do, and that’s what they’re accomplishing,” says Beni with a smile. 

For the play-by-play on updates about the #LPA2013, follow @NALIP_org on Twitter. 

Latino Producers Academy was made possible by support of our funders and sponsors from Corporation of Public Broadcasting, HBO, Comcast/NBCUniversal, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Fledgling Fund, POV/American Documentary, Latino Public Broadcasting, Univision, and the California Arts Council, among others.