The second call for submissions for the Gabriel Garcia Marquez documentary support scheme – an initiative involving the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE), the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and IFF Panama– was announced during the 6th Panama Film Festival. It runs between April 3 and June 2, 2017.
The scheme is targeted at filmmakers from indigenous populations or of African descent, based in Mexico and Central America, and films with topics about racial equity, children, or community and citizen participation.
The call includes $300,000 in grants and mentoring services covering all project stages, from scriptwriting through to distribution.
The first edition of the scheme was launched by IMCINE in 2014, as EMC-Docs, in partnership with the Ford Foundation. The current scheme had its first call in 2016 and received 72 submissions, with 22 supported projects announced in March 2017, with grants of up to $12,500 per project.
Even for the Mexican film industry – which dwarfs the film sectors in Central America – filmmakers from indigenous populations can find it difficult to access funding.
Speaking to Variety after a panel at the 6th IFF Panama dedicated to documentary support schemes, IMCINE’s Yissel Ibarra, explained that the Panama Film Festival has been chosen as a core partner of the scheme because it provides vital access to Central America.
In the 2016 call, 80% of the submitted projects were from Mexico, but Ibarra says that she believes that the proportion between Mexico and Central America will now be more balanced. “The Panama Film Festival is the gateway to Central America.”
Ibarra hopes to premiere the scheme’s films in Panama’s Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar, and in Mexico City’s new Film and Audiovisual Market and Industry (MICA).
The decision to restrict the scheme to filmmakers from indigenous populations or of African descent was taken to promote new voices. In Mexico alone, over 70 different indigenous languages are spoken.
Ibarra says one of her key inspirations is 2015 Guatemalan film,“Ixcanul,” by Jayro Bustamante, much of which is spoken in the indigenous Mayan language and highlights the institutionalized discrimination against indigenous people that exists throughout the region.
“If we could do something like “Ixcanal” it would be perfect,” she explains. “There are many groups of people in the region who are less well known to the world, but who have vibrant local cultures and storytelling traditions. ‘Ixcanal’ is my reference, it’s what I’m striving for.”
“What we’re ultimately trying to achieve is technology transfer,” she continues. “We want to allow local people to tell their own stories, rather than have others telling stories about them. But, firstly it’s difficult to find them, and then they need some training and assistance. That’s why a partner such as the Panama Film Festival is so important.”
In addition to the funding award, the scheme includes an eight-month tutoring program for each project involving some of the scheme’s jurors – such as Tatiana Huezo and Elena Fortes – and other professionals .
The two projects selected for distribution in the 2016 call will be tutored by producer Paola Stefani, who adopted an alternative distribution approach for “Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians.”
“What Paola did is really interesting,” comments Ibarra. “The film’s entire exhibition route was independent, involving online and local communities.”
The scheme also has a partnership with Mexico’s Documental Ambulante A.C., founded in 2005 by Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Pablo Cruz and Elena Fortes, whose workshops, Ambulante Más Allá, played a key role in the 2016 call, contributing 12 from the 22 selected projects.
Ibarra hopes Panama can further amplify communication in Central America. The scheme is primarily intended for documentaries and documentary series, but Ibarra says it’s flexible.
“We’re trying to empower new storytellers, more plural, who want to tell their stories.” She cites selected project,“Tote abuelo,” by María Dolores Arias Martínez, about a grandson from the nomadic Huichol tribe, who wants to accompany his grandfather on his last journey.
“At a time when the U.S. president is talking about building walls, we want to break down those barriers in a more human, loving and nurturing way. At least introduce some cracks in the walls.”