Latinos In The Industry

Westdoc II: Through the Looking Glass: Character vs Story

By Chelo Alvarez-Stehle

If you tweeted at the second annual edition of the Westdoc Conference, which took place in September in Santa Monica, CA, your hashtag would probably have looked like '#character + + + #story - - -,' as one panelist after another proclaimed that, while story may never be dead, stress on character is well alive and demanding. Peter Hamilton, who taught the Master Class Network License Fees, when asked his impressions about Westdoc, responded, "The conference provided insight into fast-changing situations." Hamilton, whose blog, delves into "the business of unscripted television," continued: "Like the Travel Channel's move from destination-based programs to character-driven series." The big take-away: "Give us access to big, unique characters and unusual situations! Pitch us series that can become tomorrow's franchises."

One of those unique moments is when the filmmakers themselves become the character, as with Joe Berlinger "as himself" in the real story-within-a-story surrounding his latest film, CRUDE: The Real Price of Oil. His panel, "A Conversation with Joe Berlinger," was one of the favorites due to the significance to the documentary field of his battle against Chevron's move to appropriate his filmed material. The oil giant forced the filmmaker to deliver 600 hours of footage to support their case in the ongoing lawsuit (Berlinger's legal fees to date amount to $600,000). Watch a clip of Joe Berlinger's Q&A at Westdoc here, where he shares how Chevron, not satisfied with the huge amount of subpoenaed footage, is now pushing him to depose his "observations" during the moments he turned the camera off--something that most documenters of reality do when their characters require privacy.

The 32 conference panels were built around two small towns that lie in the shade of the film industry seat and that are defined in the official program as "The Documentary Village" and "The Reality Village," with the addition of a sprouting new category, "Hybrid Events," that housed the many overlapping topics of interest for the attendees. This scenario reminded me of the villages and hamlets that proudly fought for their own identity in La Rioja, my home region in northern Spain. The towns were often facing homonymous rivals located a mere half a mile up or down the river, such as Arenzana de Arriba (upper Arenzana) and Arenzana de Abajo (lower Arenzana). The homonymy presented a problem when in the year 1020, Sancho el Mayor, King of Navarre, decided to leave "Arenzana" to his minor son, without specifying if it was de Arriba or de Abajo. It was finally determined that it had to be de Abajo because de Arriba belonged to the Monasterio San Millan, the birthplace of Spanish language, where the monks--the Twitterers and content creators of last millennium--were busy at perfecting this new dialect on the margins of illuminated manuscripts written in traditional Latin. I can't help comparing the patronship of one of the villages by the nobility, and the other one by the Church, to the sponsorship of TV shows of today by corporate networks and of indie documentaries by government agencies such as ITVS.

When I reported on this conference last year for Latinos In The Industry, I was a bit skeptical about this "forced marriage" between reality and documentary filmmakers, my perception then being that they stood on opposite sides of the mirror called "reality." This year, however, though I still feel their fields are worlds apart, I started to understand what Westdoc cofounders Richard Propper and Chuck Braverman had in mind. Westdoc would be an opportunity for both documenters and makers of reality--reaching through the looking glass--to go beyond the relaxed social vibe that, in the words of Hamilton, "encouraged casual access to network buyers," and find common ground in the tools of the trade and unravel auspicious synergies.

Furthermore, the cofounders' intention is to prompt indies to get out of their home-office or cubicle, bypass the cold-call pitches they sometimes see as their only option, and reach out in a personal, intimate way to those who hold the precious keys to financing: network executives and commissioning editors. When I pointed out that many of the independent documentary filmmakers that populate Los Angeles had not yet responded to the call of Westdoc, Braverman said, "There are two kinds of documentary filmmakers, the New Day, NALIP, Grant [pursuers], ITVS-type filmmakers," those who view the conference registration as still too high, and those filmmakers that think it is a good investment because of the access it provides, such as literally bumping into a network executive and practicing your elevator pitch, or signing up for one of several of the popular and timely "Facetime" sessions, or one-on-one encounters to get the financing you need. Braverman points to the fact that both Propper and he himself work in the independent producing arena, and Propper, also an ex-IDA president, hopes indies will understand that "this is a dedicated event to support the community." To their credit, they offered discounts to most film organizations, a "without-lunch" registration fee, and had a big volunteer turnout. "We even had people showing up at the door saying they could not afford the registration," said Propper, who made sure they were given the necessary access.

There were 35 sit-downs (30 minute broadcaster overviews from the networks outlining their needs of today and tomorrow) and 32 formal panels during two days, but, according to Propper, some people "never went to the panels, they just went to the sit-downs!" Ross Borden, creator of Matador Network, a web traveling magazine, said, "I am an entrepreneur and I am here for networking, but what interests me the most is the 'processes,' how projects become a reality. Here I can go to a sit-down with [Senior Vice President and Head of] Lonely Planet Television Sue Norton or meet with Discovery Studios' [Vice President, West Coast Development and Production] Sean Atkins, to pitch my Breaking Free TV series, now in development. Nothing will happen if I do a cold call to them, but now they know me."

Latino presence, both among speakers--with the exception of Fernanda Rossi's Master Class "The Perfect Pitch"--and the attendees, was still quite low. Pitchfest, which was sponsored this year by the Gilbert Group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, with $7,500 in cash prizes, is a great forum to test your project's strengths. Among the 11 pitch finalists at Pitchfest were NALIPster Dawn Valadez and Hima B., who pitched License to Pimp, their promising upcoming documentary about strippers and their working conditions. The prize went to James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, who won $5,000 in cash for Indie Game: The Movie. Their artistically edited work-in-progress features game creator Edmund McMillen sharing how his childhood secrets inspired his enticing, tiny creatures games, such as the award-winning "Aether," the inspiring story of a lonely boy which could be called "The Little Prince on alien land." "The best part of attending Westdoc," said Swirsky, "were the connections made and the general feeling that broadcasters, distributors and other collaborators are indeed accessible. They are real people looking for great projects, and if you have a great project, you have a shot. That's something that is exceptionally encouraging to a pair of filmmakers from Winnipeg, Manitoba."

Another of the handful of NALIPsters attending Westdoc was documentary producer Robin Rosenthal--whose current project is Escaramuza: Riding from the Heart. She said of her Facetime session, "My project had been previously turned down by ITVS, but a face-time meeting with Richard Saiz, followed immediately by his eye-opening ITVS 'How-To' workshop, left me feeling reinvigorated and ready to give it another shot. As Richard reminded us, and as corny as it sounds, 'rejection' and 'discouraged' are not in the ITVS vocabulary. The fact that less than five percent of applicants are funded is indeed haunting, but as the PBS panel participants reminded us, that's where the big pot of money lives."

"Thanks to a successful turnout of over 30 sponsors, from Getty Images to Santa Monica Video," says Propper, "there were also several sponsored social events." Cocktails took place in upscale locations at Santa Monica's Third Promenade, where people mingled and could fortify themselves with some vino to face off that seemingly unreachable network executive. Which reminded me how, in the best tradition of the villages in Spain, whenever one of the town's fiesta time arrives, rival villages leave behind their differences and eagerly travel distances to join in the fun. And there, while tasting some tapas or the Rioja wine that some still skillfully pour from the wineskins, or bargaining at the cattle market, the villagers find common ground and start new ventures with their kinsmen.

Chelo Alvarez-Stehle is a writer, documentary and new media producer based in Los Angeles and a long-time contributor for Spain's daily El Mundo and other publications. A clip of her current transmedia project can be seen here Sands of Silence: Fighting Sexual Slavery and Trafficking.

Call for Entries: Miami International Film Festival

The Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) is a world-class platform for International and Ibero-American film. Presenting its 28th edition in March 2011, MIFF showcases the work of the world's best emerging and established filmmakers to the diverse South Florida community.

Submission Deadline: Monday, October 25, 2010 (Late Deadline)
Save $5 by submitting through Withoutabox
Details and submission information available online here.

Deemed "a Sundance for Ibero-American films" by the Wall Street Journal, MIFF has become the natural gateway for the discovery of Ibero-American talent. Cash awards are given in four competition categories. Prizes of $20,000 are awarded in the World and Ibero-American dramatic competitions, $10,000 is awarded in the Documentary (DOX) competition, and $2,500 is awarded in the Shorts competition. Non-competition categories include Cinema 360 and Cutting the Edge.

The 2010 Miami International Film Festival attracted more than 70,000 people and over 200 filmmakers, producers, talent and industry professionals from around the world. MIFF presented 117 films from more than 53 countries, including several international prizewinners and 72 East Coast, US, North American and World premieres. Headquartered in the heart of Miami Beach, the Festival has had the privilege of hosting a noted group of filmmakers and talent, including Pedro Almodvar, Abel Ferrara, Spike Lee, Andy Garcia, Alfonso Cuaron, Kate Hudson, Jonathan Demme, Liv Ullman, Luc Besson, Hector Babenco, Willem Dafoe, Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper, Helen Hunt, and Danny Glover.

For exceptional exposure in Miami and Latin America, submit your film to the Miami international Film Festival today.

Call for Entries: Los Angeles Women's International Film Festival

The Los Angeles Women's International Film Festival is currently accepting entries for it's 2011 festival. March 2011 will mark the seventh year of this festival which features short and feature-length fims of all genres written and directed by women. In addition to screening narratives, the festival programs films which educate and inform audiences of critical issues impacting women globally and generate awareness for organizations that help women.

Final Deadline: Friday, October 15, 2010.
Details and submission information available online here.
If your film or screenplay is NOT selected, you will still receive an All-Access Pass to the festival!

The 2010 festival opened with Serious Moonlight written by the late Adrienne Shelly. Director Cheryl Hines introduced the film and informed the audience about the Adrienne Shelly Foundation which provides resources for women filmmakers.

The 2010 centerpiece presentation of Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy was introduced by a representative from Partners in Health who informed the audience about the organization and gave an update on the Haiti crisis and Partner in Health's PIPs fundraising relief efforts.

  Mexican Actress Dominika Paleta Not Looking For Hollywood Stardom
( - Mexican telenovela star Dominika Paleta makes her Hollywood debut as the Spanish narrator for the new Disney movie Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, but the Mexican superstar is not interesting leaving her career in Mexico behind for Tinseltown. FULL STORY

Underwood and Vidal: An Untypical Latino Couple
(Latin Heat Online) - Listening to actors Blair Underwood and Lisa Vidal chatter away with a relaxed rapport on the patio of a trendy Studio City restaurant, it is easy to believe they could be husband and wife, a relationship they play in the new NBC drama series, "The Event." FULL STORY

Jobs & Opportunities

Visit the NALIP Job Opportunities page for all the latest listings.

Clearance Coordinator who Speaks Conversational Portuguese
FishBowl Worldwide Media has an immediate opening for a Clearance Coordinator who will be responsible for obtaining rights and clearances of home videos and photos for paid media outlets. FULL JOB DESCRIPTION

Sound Mixer
Need a Sound Mixer for low-budget web series shooting mid-October to mid-November in Los Angeles. FULL JOB DESCRIPTION

Casting: Individual of South or Central American descent for Discovery Channel Series
The Discovery Channel and Pilgrim Films & Television (producer of "Dirty Jobs" and "Out of the Wild") are now casting people of Latin-American descent for the exciting, new season of their wilderness survival show "Out of the Wild." FULL JOB DESCRIPTION

From the Editor
In last Thursday's LITI a Spotlight story about John Valadez should have referred to him as a "longtime NALIP member and LPA Mentor" rather than "NALIP founder."

Alex Mendoza
Alex Mendoza & Associates
AMARTE Design & Digital Printing
9513 Longden Avenue
Temple City, CA 91780

1323 Lincoln Blvd., #220
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Rafi Mercado
NALIPster's film Miente representing Puerto Rico to the Academy Awards

Miente ("Lie"), an LPA film directed by NALIP member Rafi Mercado, has been chosen to represent Puerto Rico for consideration as a nomination for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film 2010. Read an article (in Spanish) about the film's selection here, or watch the trailer online here.

Synopsis: An artist caught between reality and fantasy. A friend with a dangerous thirst for adrenaline. And, a beautiful girlfriend with wild desires. Miente is a psychological thriller with a triangle relationship that takes you to the edge.

Juan Carlos Zaldivar
NALIP Board member's short premiering in Miami

NALIP Board member, Juan Carlos Zaldivar, previews a new short film at Miami Art Museum's exhibition, New Work Miami 2010: Video. Entitled Video Origami 1, the short is inspired by Herzog & de Mureon's latest building in Miami Beach developped by Robert Wennett. The Swiss architects' work includes the Bird's Nest stadium for the Olympic 2008 summer games in Peking, China.

Oct. 1 at The Gansevort. South Beach, 10pm;
Oct. 7 on the giant screen outside the AA arena 8pm-Midnight;
Oct. 16-17 at Miami Art Museum, downtown Miami, Noon-5pm both days.

Frank Aragon
NALIPster's film opening theatrically in South Texas

2009 Toronto International Film Festival selection Down for Life will open theatrically in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas on October 7th, 2010. The film is Produced by NALIP member Frank Aragon and Scott Alvarez.

The film is opening through DFL releasing Inc. and B.D. Fox Independent, part one of a platform release. They determined that the Rio Grande Valley is the best proving ground to show a film based on a true story that stars Danny Glover, Kate Del Castillo, Laz Alonso, and newcomer Jessica Romero.

Chelo Alvarez-Stehle
NALIPster awarded Pacific Pioneer Fund grant

NALIP member Chelo Alvarez-Stehle (LPA 2008) has been awarded the Pacific Pioneer Fund grant. The grant will support Chelo's current documentary project Sands of Silence: a personal journey into the trafficking of women which was first nurtured (along with editor Maria Zeiss) at NALIP's Latino Producers Academy. The Pacific Pioneer Fund supports emerging documentary filmmakers and is awarded once in the life of a filmmaker. The term "emerging" is intended to denote a person committed to the craft of making documentaries, who has demonstrated that commitment by several years - but no more than ten - of practical film or video experience.


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The Latinos in the Industry e-Newsletter is a free service provided by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) with the generous assistance of Alex Mendoza & Associates (AMA) in an "as-is" basis for the education and information of users only. NALIP and/or AMA, their principal(s), employees, agents or representatives shall under no circumstances be liable for any loss or damage, including, but not limited to, loss of profits, goodwill or indirect or consequential loss arising out of any use of or inaccuracies in the information. All warranties expressed or implied are excluded to the fullest extent permissible by law. All comments and postings, including those by the Editor, are the responsibility of those individuals posting and no endorsement by NALIP and/or AMA should be inferred. Referral links and individual e-mail forwarding are permitted. NALIP reserves the right to withdraw or delete information or to discontinue this service at any time. All quoted, linked and/or referred information, as well as all copyrights and trademarks, are the property of their respective holders, used here under license and/or "fair-use" rules. © NALIP.