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In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for June 2012 is Joan Gonzalez, Parallel 40.

Joan Gonzalez began his career in 1976 at TVE (Television Española) as assistant film editor. He is now the manager of Parallel 40 and has been so since it was founded in 1996. Parallel 40 is an independent company focused on training, production, distribution and festivals in the documentary field in both Spain and Latin America. Joan has worked as film editor, director and executive producer, and among the documentaries he has been involved in are The Fence (Prix UIP Berlinale, Sundance), The Three Elsas  (INPUT), The Grandfather With a Camera (INPUT) and Nomadak TX. Overall more than 150 films. Joan is also especially proud of the project “Taller.doc” which provides new opportunities to young directors.

EDN has talked to Joan about his more than 30 years in the business and the award that he and Parallel 40 recently received for the company’s important work in society of producing and distributing documentaries with a social perspective.

EDN: How did you get started in the documentary business?

JG: After 15 years working in public TV stations in factual programs, I decided to start my career as an independent producer. 5 years after I created Parallel 40 in order to have more economical stability. Factual programs were what I knew how to do, so... I started to do what I knew.

EDN: What has made you stay in the business for more than 30 years?

JG: Trying to combine work and my dream and passion was my personal decision when I was 17 years old; the most difficult moment was to find my first job as a film editor assistant, and after that I stayed simply by fighting and having good luck and good partners.

EDN: What have been the most dramatic changes you have witnessed since you started in the business? Both on an overall and a more local level?

JG: It is difficult to answer this question. There have been a lot of changes, but I can’t say if they were dramatic or not. One of the most difficult moments for me was not related to economy or a big change, but it was the relation I had with a film as a film editor, physically speaking. For me as a film editor the film was physic, I touched the film, I manipulated the film with my hands, I could smell the film... and when the video technology arrived I, and all the film editors, lost this world. My physical relation with the film was transformed towards playing with buttons and keys. Something had changed. One world disappeared.

At a different level, from a local point of view, the big change in the documentary field was that in Spain we did not have a documentary tradition at all until the 90’s. Thanks to EDN, and thanks to Tue Steen Muller that changed. This made a change forever. Now documentary is in the normal life, documentary exists.

EDN: What was the motivation for starting Parallel 40 in 1996?

JG: After a permit of 5 years, I had to decide whether to return to the TV station, TV3 in Barcelona, or to start a new dream. And the dream won again. This was my motivation, to try to build a new dream.

EDN: Is there a common theme or mission that is reflected in the films produced by Parallel 40?

JG: From a close focus, the answer is not. If I open the focus, the answer is that people are always the focus of the story.

EDN: How has the company evolved since the beginning?

JG: It has evolved in a way that I would never have imagined. I started in a room in my house and now we have 2 offices, in Barcelona and Santiago de Chile, and a new one will be opened in Bogotá soon. We are 12 people and we work in all the fields of documentary: training, production, distribution and exhibition, although the first idea was just to produce. We have tried to walk on two legs: on one leg we have the dream, on the second leg we have the management, with a strong financial director and, above that, we have a team, a dream team.

EDN: Parallel 40 is also the organizer behind DocsBarcelona, which this year had its 15th anniversary. What impact has this festival and pitching forum had on the documentary environment in Spain and what is the mission and motivation for this event?

JG: DocsBarcelona is EDN. DocsBarcelona is a son of EDN. DocsBarcelona has played a key point in the transformation of the documentary field in Spain. At the beginning, it was a place for training the Spanish producers and now it is a place to finance projects from all over the world and to present documentary film to the general audience. Parallel 40 wants to transform the ecology of documentary in places where this ecology doesn’t exist; and that was the case of Spain. Parallel 40 is not just a production company, or a private company, Parallel 40 wants to change the rules of the game in favour of documentary, and DocsBarcelona is one of the tools.

EDN: Two years ago DocsBarcelona added the Rough Cut Screenings to the programme. Can you tell a bit more about this initiative and its background?

JG: One key moment in the process of the production of a documentary is the editing. It is the final moment; after that only the screening exists and the public’s judgement. Therefore, editing is a key moment and it is important to have this kind of private screening in front of other people that have not participated in the production of the film. At DocsBarcelona, we thought that we had to support directors in a creative way to try to contrast their editing with other partners. The films and the directors have appreciated these sessions.  

EDN: How does Parallel 40 work with distribution?

JG: DocsBarcelona was the door to improve the quality of potential documentaries. The next step was reaching the public. For that reason, we created “ The Documentary of the Month” to bring together docs and public. We started in 3 venues and now we have a documentary premiere every month in cinemas and cultural centres in 42 cities. It was the logical evolution in this process. In 7 years we have reached more that 150.000 cinemagoers in 3 countries, Spain, Chile and Argentina. Now we distribute also for TV and VoD in Spain and Latin America.

EDN: Parallel 40 has just been selected for the Momemtum Project as 1 of 10 Spanish companies that have a social engaged profile. Can you tell a bit more about this award and project and what it means for Parallel 40 to be selected?

JG: Momentum project is an initiative of the Business School, ESADE - one of the top 10 Business Schools in Europe - and the international Bank BBVA. They want to support projects that have the “social entrepreneurship” in their soul.  From 100 companies, there were 10 selected. 7 of them are focused on working with handicapped people, 2 focused on ecology and one focused on documentaries.

For me such recognition means two things. One thing is that it will give us tools to improve and sophisticate the company’s financial and organisational management and a plan to make the company grow; but the second part is that a group of economical experts with a social commitment have recognized documentaries as a tool that not only is an art and a creative expression, but that it is also a tool to generate a positive impact in our society. And this is, from my point of view, extraordinarily and extremely important.

EDN: How is the documentary environment in Barcelona and in Spain coping with and adapting to the current financial crisis?

JG: Suffering, suffering and suffering.  Some companies are closing, other people left the media sector... it is a depressing panorama. And no one can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

EDN: Do you have a good advice for newcomers in the business?

JG: Fight for your dream, everything is possible and everything can be made.

EDN: What lies ahead now for you and Parallel 40?                  

JG: For Parallel 40 my next step is to consolidate the company in Latin America, to be socially useful, and to go on creating good conditions for documentaries. For me, it is to keep enjoying my dream and creating new projects; to be, again, an explorer.


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