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Women to Watch: Producer Gema Juarez Allen

Women to Watch: Producer Gema Juarez Allen

I caught up with Argentine producer Gema Juarez Allen at the Panama Film Festival. Since seeing (and falling in love with) the Argentine road movie “Road to La Paz”/ “Camino a La Paz in Guadalajara and interviewing its director, Francisco Varone, I was interested in meeting her as well, even more so because her other film, the Colombian drama “Oscuro Animal” which premiered in Rotterdam and won four prizes at Mexico’s Guadalajara International Film Festival in March 2016, for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Cinematography and has been sold to seven territories. “Oscuro Animal” is about three women fleeing armed conflict in Colombia. It was directed by Colombia’s Felipe Guerrero, an editor on “La Playa DC,” “Perro come perro” and “El Paramo”. It received funding from the Hubert Bals Fund and World Cinema Fund. 

In Panama Gema was quite busy, not only with “Road to La Paz” but participating on the panel, Your Project in Motion: Coproduction and Financing along with Panamanian producers and directors, Delfina Vidal (“Caja 25”), Annie Canavaggio (“Breaking the Wave”) and Abner Benaim (“Invasion”) who also happens to be Gema’s partner.

As one of Latin America’s most active producers, Gema’s extensive experience international coproduction was invaluable and she shared it freely at the panel. Her participation in workshops in Europe, such as the EAVE Producers Workshop and Eurodoc, has played a key role in establishing her international connections. While at EAVE, she met Greek Boo Productions and Germany’s Ingmar Trost of Sutor Kolonko who came on board to coproduce “Oscuro Animal”.

“Road to La Paz” director, Francisco Varone said,

“In 2012 we submitted the project to Visions Sud Est in Switzerland. I was almost working by myself on the film at this time and then started working with a larger Argentinean production company, Concreto Films, owned by Juan Taratuto, a big film director who was directing TV commercials and said he’d help. They had a tough time finding investors so he introduced me to Gema Juarez Allen (whose recent film “Invasion” is the story of the U.S. invasion of Panama in the 1980s). She is a well-known documentary producer with experience in coproductions who knows how to find money and understands the value of going to festivals. She said she would do it as her first fiction film and went to San Sebastian Film Festival’s Foro de Coproduccion in 2013. There she had lots of one-on-one meetings and met Julius Ponten our Dutch coproducer who got funding from the Netherlands Film Fonds and Gunter Hanfgarn (“Bad Hair”) who applied to EZEF, an Evangelistic Fund for films from the south (one of the backers of “Timbuktu”). “

Read more on “Road to La Paz” here.

Gema continued this story when we spoke:

Juan liked the project but it was not in his domain so he sought me out. I read the script about two men and one car and thought, “This is easy”. But of course it was not. A road movie is the most difficult of all genres, and with animals, and covering two countries! Working with Pancho (Francisco Varone), he is the kind of director I like. I find the shooting is usually more important than the people, but with Pancho, the crew is important and he balanced the people and the shoot, so after all, it was ‘easy’.

The film is being sold internationally by FiGa. It is doing well in Argentina with 35,000 admissions, 20 copies and now in its fourth month in the cinemas. It is a ‘word of mouth’ film.

SL: What are you working on now?

Gema Juarez Allen: I am now filming “Mapa Mudo”/ “Silent Map”.

A doc project by Felipe Guerrero, Nicolás Rincón and Jorge Caballero, based on video letters of three Colombian filmmakers who left their home country in the late 90s.

And I am developing a new project with the directors of our breakthough film from 2011, “Revenge of the Antipodes”/ “¡Vivan las antípodas!“ which screened in Venice. It’s called “Cro-goo-fant” and is a documentary for children, a funny story about animals. The director, Victor Kossokovsky, did a short doc for kids before.

I am also working with Andres di Tella, the most important documentary filmmaker and founder of BAFICI in Argentina. It’s a very personal story about the avant garde art Institute lead by his father, the INSTITUTO DI TELLA.

And I am working on “Veterans” about the Falkland Islands War. Bertha Fund is backing it. Lola Arias is directing this documentary feature about the unexpected consequences of war on its protagonists, about the way memory is turned into fiction. I am looking for coproducers now. It is a different look at United Kingdom and Argentina vets that is at the same time both serious and humorous. We are creating a film around a theater play which will open in London this May. It began with the London International Theater Festival along with the Royal Court House Theater. It is not filmic; Lola Arias’ language is so refreshing; she is from the theater.

A winner of the 2015 Berlinale Co-production Market Pitch, Abner Benaim’s “Plaza catedral,” is also in the works. It is a tangled false friendship drama with thriller elements, set against the background of Panama’s social divide.

And I am currently producing Benaim’s doc, “My Name is Not Ruben Blades” with Ruben Blades.

Also in the works: the next film from Manuel Abramovich (“La Reina”), a Mar del Plata 2014 Works in Progress winner for “Solar” – a small but remarkable heart-warming doc-feature whose power struggle between director and subject adds unusually honest depths to a bio-portrait of someone who claims to come from the sun.

SL: You are so prolific! How did you get started in this?

I studied anthropology at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of Rio de Janeiro but didn’t like academia and so I studied film at the National Film School and thought I would combine the two. In England I studied Visual Anthropology and worked as a P.A. and as a researcher for the BBC for a “Discovery Channel” type of channel and then I returned to Argentina. 

Between 2003 to 2008 I worked at Cine Ojo the oldest doc company in Argentina and at Habitación 1520 Producciones (“Imagen Final”, “Criada”, “Los Jóvenes Muertos”, “Dulce Espera”) before creating my own company Gema Films in 2009. 

SL: You were coordinator of DocBuenos Aires until 2003, a training initiative as well.

Gema Juarez Allen: I have produced 17 films with lots of help.

I was a Sundance Documentary Fund grantee on two films. My projects have been supported by Visions Sud Est, Tribeca Film Institute, Hubert Bals Fund, IDFA Fund, Cinereach, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, DocStation Berlin, et al. I received the ARTE/BAL Award in 2008 for Upcoming Producers at BAFICI.

I coproduce with WG Film (Sweden), Majade FilmProduktion (Germany), Gebrüder Beetz (Germany), Lemming Film (Netherlands) and Producciones Aplaplac (Chile).

I have received awards at Berlinale, BAFICI, Roma, Guadalajara, Silverdocs, among many others. Gema is part of EuroDoc since 2010 and is a member of the Board of ADN, the Argentinean Documentary Filmmakers Network.

SL: What advice do you have for young filmmakers?

Gema Juarez Allen: First find a good project. It is very competitive and you must have an original perspective on the subject. There are so many ideas everywhere, it must be good.

Producers should be highly-organized. Be sure to fully develop projects before presenting them to partners and funding decision makers. The key elements to present when the project is fully conceived are an overview, a synopsis, a director’s statement, a brief treatment, a financial plan, a budget, a production timetable and bio-filmographies.

Find a producer with experience. I’m always interested in new directors and new voices.

The best opportunities to find partners are at festivals, markets and above all workshops. These are good places to find colleagues and mentors to give you great feedback. Diana Elbaum is my mentor from EAVE and she is always looking at what I’m doing. And most of my coproduction partners came from the EAVE and Eurodoc workshops.

Beyond EAVE and Eurodoc, which are very open to Latin American projects, other good workshops are Docmontevideo, Guadalajara, TYPA, Cinergia Lab, IDFA Summer Academy, Chiledoc, Berlin Talent Campus, Documentary Campus, Morelia Lab among others.

Good international funding sources are Ibermedia and also the “Plus” schemes associated to funds such as Creative Europe, World Cinema Fund, Hubert Bals Fund and the IDFA Bertha fund. Other funds are Fonds d’Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, the Sundance documentary fund, Visions Sud Est, the Tribeca Film Institute, the Doha Film Institute and Sorfond, for co-productions with Norway.

In terms of leading international markets, Cannes, Rotterdam’s Cinemart, Berlin’s European Film Market, Ventana Sur and Guadalajara – and for documentaries – starting with IDFA Forum and Hotdocs, followed by Meetmarket Sheffield and Docmontevideo.

It is also important to choose the right festival to premiere a project since it’s virtually impossible to premiere a picture in a small festival and then get a larger fest to screen the film. It’s also important to explore the work-in-progress sidebars that now exist at most Latin American festivals, including IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada competition.

State funding sources in Latin America include DICINE, in Panama, INCAA in Argentina, Proimagenes in Colombia, Brazil’s Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual, the Fondo Audiovisual in Chile, and IMCINE in Mexico. The selection criteria used by these national funds varies considerably. Proimagenes in Colombia, which only finances around 14 films per year last year had three pictures at Cannes.

Over the last three or four years many national funds have created specific lines of funding for co-productions, through bilateral agreements, such as that between Brazil’s ANCINE and Argentina’s INCAA, which grants $250,000 per pic supported. As a result of such bilateral agreements Brazil, for example, is now a key partner for all of Latin America.

“I’d like to make the second or third films of my directors. They’ve all been such good experience. We’ve grown together,” Juarez Allen told Variety at the Mar del Plata Festival.

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