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Docunexion: Stage One

Storyville's Kate Townsend takes UK and Mexican docmakers through the finer details of BBC Four's documentary strand

June 2015 | Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest hosted the first stage of our UK-Mexico Docunexion programme, where twelve filmmakers and six mentors came together from both countries to workshop feature projects in development. Megan Horvath, UK producer of Mexican-set 'The Disappeared', shares her experiences.

It’s fair to assume that money is at the top of most filmmakers’ wish lists. Its scarcity and elusiveness sends first-time filmmakers and veterans alike on journeys to uncover it that often last years. But to believe the viability of a film is simply about securing its budget is to overlook and deny the importance of the hours of conversations that precede any fundraising stage. The Disappeared, the documentary film project I am working on with director Michelle Coomber, is a good window onto the process of development that is not often talked about.

After producing a short documentary for AJ+ (Al-Jazeera's cross-platform news service) about the 43 students who were disappeared in Mexico in September 2014, Michelle wanted to explore the wider context of this story through film. What were the conditions causing the increasing violence in Mexico, and why had this particular story cut through to make international headlines? It was the horror of the violence in Mexico, the faces of the 43 disappeared student teachers and the re-awakened social movement that made us want to explore this story further.

So it was a perfectly timed stroke of good fortune when we found out that The Disappeared had been selected to take part in Docunexion. This first stage took place over three days so there was no time to waste and each producer-director team had to pitch their projects on the first day. As two British filmmakers with not much more than an emotional connection to this powerful story and the harrowing situation in Mexico, this felt like a particularly intimidating task. Firstly, it was difficult to gauge how to frame our pitch when half the audience were filmmakers from Mexico. Having not yet been to the Mexican state of Guerrero to do research about the disappeared Ayotzinapa students, we were in the unusual situation of our fellow participants understanding the complexities of this politically sensitive situation better than we did.

As soon as our pitch ended there were tons of questions and because our project is at such early stages of development, we struggled to give specific answers. But the Docunexion environment was incredibly friendly and it was a relief to hear that the Mexican mentors on the programme - Everardo González, Martha Sosa and Daniela Alatorre - were really supportive of our project and our ability as non-Mexicans to tackle it. They suggested practical steps on how to further our research into, and understanding of, not only the Ayotzinapa case but the larger context surrounding it. Knowing how to expand the network on the ground in Mexico that Michelle had already established through the work of her AJ+ film was invaluable and the two most important things our project needs at this early stage are perspective and collaboration from Mexico.

Being part of the Docunexion workshop felt like being part of a festival within a festival. Our Mexican colleagues introduced us to new documentary perspectives -  Kings of Nowhere (Los Reyes Del Pueblo Que No Existe) directed by fellow Docunexion participant Betzabé García, and Portraits of a Search (Retratos de una busqueda) directed by Alicia Calderón and shot by fellow Docunexion participant Dalia Huerta Cano were both screening at Doc/Fest, as were UK mentor Jerry Rothwell’s How to Change the World and The Look of Silence, executive produced by UK mentor Andre Singer.

The first instalment of Docunexion gave us more than enough to think about and research before we travel with the two other British filmmaking teams and the three British mentors to Mexico City in October for the second leg!

Docunexion is supported by British Council and IMCINE, and delivered in partnership with Sheffield Doc/FestAmbulante and Docs DF