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Interview with Fernando Pena, BAFICI director

A typical day for Fernando Pena, the Artistic Director of the BAFICI, the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, begins routinely at 8:00am, when he comes into his office to deal with the mass of emails and phone messages from around the world.

This early morning hour is the only time in the day when his phone is not ringing off the hook. Buenos Aires, famous for its nightlife and parties that last until the first rays of the morning sunlight, is not a town for early risers, but Pena, usually on less than 3 hours of sleep, uses the mornings as a way of getting started with the new day.

That day will include as many as 60 screenings in 5 different venues, press conferences, special events, receptions, and the meeting and greeting that he must do to the international guests, visiting journalists and demanding critics who are at the event.

In a rare moment of calm, as Pena took a few moments to devour a steak and drink some of the pungent Argentine Malbec red wine, we were able to have an informal interview.

“What has been the biggest challenge to you in organizing this Festival?

Pena: “Well, the biggest challenge is always time. I had less than five months to prepare this Festival. I decided to take on the challenge in December and that also included trips to Rotterdam and Berlin. Most festival directors have a full year to prepare, so getting this much done in such a small amount of time has been amazing. I have my staff, programmers and my wife to thank for that.”

“What is the profile of this Festival and what are your goals?”

Pena: This Festival is devoted to independent cinema from around the world. We are interested in the works of new, young directors, and have a focus on our local and Latin American cinema, as well as independent cinema from Europe, Asia and North America. We realize that many of the films we show here will only be shown in a Festival like this, and may not have the possibility to be seen at another time. That makes our Festival different, and its profile very clear. And people who come here know that this may be their only chance to see such kinds of films.”

“What changes are you seeing in the landscape of filmmaking that you want to showcase here in Buenos Aires?”

Pena: “It is clear that documentaries are progressively occupying a more prominent space in the world’s cinematographic production. This tendency has been building in the past few years, and has become so strong that this year, for the first time, we made the decision to incorporate documentaries in the International and Argentine Film Competition.”

What does the Festival do to promote the local cinema of new directors from Argentina?”

Pena: Of course, we have the Argentine Film Competition, which is one of the most well attended sections of the Festival by both local and foreign audience members. Local films are also included in the International Competition and in the Shorts Competition. This year, the Secretary of Culture made a decision to allow the Festival to be a channel of selection for the application of the BA Cultural Fund, which granted a subsidy to five Argentinian films to be blown up to 35mm for their international presentation at the Festival. This will strengthen the Festival’s role as a launching platform of the best Argentinian cinema.”

“How does this Festival compare to the other well known Argentine Festival in Mar del Plata?”

Pena: The Mar del Plata Film Festival is our equivalent of Cannes, and is therefore interested in bigger, glossier films. Their focus is different than ours. However, we do have a good relationship with them, and we are sharing about 20 films in common. It is not a bad idea to have two festivals with different profiles. It only makes our cinema experience much richer and fuller, and presents two opportunities for foreign filmmakers to show their works. It also gives local distributors a chance to pick up interesting new films.

“What are your plans for the future of this Festival?”

Pena: “We want to continue to showcase exciting new works and to assist local filmmakers to not only finish their films, but also to present them on an international stage. Of course, we want to have more international guests and buyers attend. We are thinking about a possible change of dates for the Festival, to not be so close to Cannes in May. That makes it more difficult sometimes to get the films we want and for international buyers to attend. However, the local cinemas we use like these April dates so it does need to be looked at closely. In either case, the future of this Festival is continued growth and support from both the public, the press and the government authorities.”

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor

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