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Joan Gonzàlez • Director, DocsBarcelona

"There’s a documentary for every single viewer"


- We chatted to Joan Gonzàlez, the head of the Barcelona International Documentary Film Festival, the 23rd edition of which kicks off today on Filmin

Joan Gonzàlez  • Director, DocsBarcelona

Joan Gonzàlez has spent the last 23 years at the helm of DocsBarcelona, and this year, the Catalan documentary film festival also turns 23 itself. It gets under way today, Tuesday 19 May, and will continue until 31 May. Owing to the exceptional circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, this edition will be held entirely online: its rich and varied programme can be enjoyed via the Filmin platform.

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Cineuropa: How has the gathering you head up been coping with the current situation? Some festivals have been postponed, but you have decided to go online.
Joan Gonzàlez:
We considered both options: going digital or postponing it to July or possibly the autumn. Postponing it would have entailed depending on something that was beyond anyone’s control, or being dependent on situations that had nothing to do with the art world or people’s health. So then, with the aim of safeguarding the festival and the team, we decided to move it online.

What is the philosophy or editorial policy behind DocsBarcelona when it comes to programming, as well as the myriad activities that unspool as part of it?
We think there is a documentary for every single person – in other words, this is a festival for the masses: last year, we welcomed 25,000 viewers. We seek to generate a documentary culture, disseminate it and normalise it as another cinematic genre. At the same time, with our roots firmly entrenched in the industry side, we aim to help new works spring up: we work with projects that are in their initial stages and with others that are more advanced, and we organise a project-financing market as well as viewings of cinematic works in progress, which are at the editing stage.

Lately, documentaries have become very daring and have been opening up new narrative avenues while seeping into other genres and blurring the boundaries.
I think that, for years now, the documentary form has been enjoying a golden age: thanks to technology (the switch from celluloid to video, and then to digital) and ease of access (platforms and festivals), there have never been as many viewers of documentaries as we’re seeing now. And, on the other hand, it’s really flexible, teetering between various different genres, from experimental to fiction, via hybrid formats – and we have a couple of them at the festival this year, in the form of Winter Journey [+see also:
film review
film profile
and The Hypnotist [+see also:
film review
film profile
. The latter type are really effective at that strategy of telling a story plucked from reality and, at the same time, being very gutsy in their mise-en-scène.

Is the festival maintaining the same sections as it had in previous years?
Yes. The Official Panorama contains the most interesting content that the programmers watched from the international selection. Another is Latitud, which has a Spanish-Latin American focus. What the Doc! is the most daring strand, where we seek to demand more of the viewer. And then there’s the university-focused Doc-U section, where we give a slot to works by students. Docs&Teens is an attempt to bring teenagers closer to the documentary genre: this year, I think we have 3,800 youngsters who have signed up through their schools, and these sessions go down extremely well because we always want to create a triangle between the work, the auteur and the viewer at the festival, and these screenings always end up generating a whole heap of questions for the director.

What was it like setting up the cooperation agreement with Filmin?
It was really straightforward because we have been working together for years. On one hand, DocsBarcelona has the festival, which is held in May, but it also organises monthly events through Documentary of the Month (where we screen a film in 70 theatres around Spain). That has resulted in us working with Filmin for quite a while because, after the theatrical release, the titles end up on their platform. Last year, they racked up 54,000 viewers on the website. This year, we have expanded this collaboration with Filmin; as a result, viewers from all over Spain will be able to attend our festival, which makes us curious to see what kind of response there will be.

Is there anything in particular you would like to highlight in terms of the institutional support that DocsBarcelona receives?
I’d like to mention the generosity and commitment of the institutions in Brussels, Barcelona and Madrid, which have supported and encouraged us, and which are also making their criteria more flexible in an attempt to help prevent festivals being lost along the way; that’s something to be grateful for, and which we really appreciate. There’s no substitute for the big-screen experience, but if history has placed us in this unique situation and we have a plan B – because technology enables us to have one – let’s make the most of it. But let’s not leave a void, and next year we’ll be straight back in the cinemas. I think that the digital world is going to change something: for example, this year, in our industry section, the number of professionals who will be looking for films to support has grown by 50% because it is happening online. That’s why the experience of this edition of DocsBarcelona is going to be very interesting – there will be some elements of it that we’ll keep and others that we’ll leave to one side, I’m sure.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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