The Expat: Ginger Gentile

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Born: Long Island, New York
Lives: San Telmo
Education: History degree at Columbia University
Profession: Film director at San Telmo Productions
Book: Behind The Red Door: Sex in China
Film: La cáscara rota
Gadget: eBook

New York-born filmmaker Ginger Gentile decided to jump in at the deep end when she visited Buenos Aires for the first time it wasn’t long after Argentina’s last financial crisis that took place at the end of 2001. Almost 12 years on and she lives in San Telmo with her husband Gabriel, and together they released the feature film Mujeres con Pelotas (Goals for Girls: A Story of Women With Balls) last Thursday.

Ginger says: “I had spent a month studying Spanish in Guatemala and also in Cuba, and I first came to Argentina in December 2002. I knew about the social situation at the time as I was an activist and very interested in finding out about recovered factories. I came here when most people were leaving.

“In 2002 the country was still in crisis after the big collapse there wasn’t any money in ATM machines, the government system had collapsed and no one had money, not even to take the bus. I worked with a film editor who saved up for two months to buy a pen to write on DVDs. When people complain about how things are now, they have no idea. Everyone who was middle class was convinced they’d never be able to travel again or buy a car, so in fact things have improved since then.”

Long-term living
Despite the difficulties of day-to-day living at that time, Ginger’s plan to visit for a few months developed into something for more long term. “Everyone thought I was crazy, even those in Cuba, because there wasn’t any sugar here. My family even staged an intervention to stop me from coming as Argentina was considered so unsafe, the second-most dangerous country after Iraq at that time.

“But once I was here I started to get involved, from an observing point of view in any case with the recovered factories. One thing I love about Argentina is that that a crisis brings out the best in Argentines and there was an explosion of art, music and social organizing, with collective decisions being made toward helping to revitalize the economy. But it was never my intention to be here for more than a few months. However, I studied theatre for a year then realized I didn’t want to be an actress so I decided to study film.

“In Hollywood, film is very elitist but it’s very encouraging here, and I wanted to learn something else as there’s not much you can do with a history degree besides teach history. I wanted to do something creative but with a technical side, so film was a good match. When I’d tell people, they’d say ‘why don’t you go and make a short film?’”

Ginger went back to school and so began her filmmaking career, which led her and Gabriel to set up a company that provides production services for foreign firms, as well as make her own movies.

Movie maker
She adds: “I started studying in 2004 and started to make short films, fiction, in 2005. It was never my idea to be a director but other people encouraged me to give it a shot I love the fact that people are so supportive here. I got into making documentaries later on, which I liked as I’ve always been politically active and it’s a way to educate but from a role that isn’t activism. I’m living in a country that isn’t my own so I think it’s a little awkward to be involved actively, but I see it as another way to help.

“I’m a bit of a homebody but through film I learn things, so I can travel and meet people in that way. I worked on a documentary about Buenos Aires dog walkers and learned so much about dogs psychology, rescue, dog legislation, even how to manage a group of them! The worst breed for collective dog walking is a golden retriever, for example!

“I’ve visited all the big sights such as Iguazú because I’ve filmed there. But the most interesting experience has been spending time in Villa 31 shantytown for Mujeres con Pelotas. It was interesting not just because it’s a different world but the media shows so many stereotypes and Villa 31 is completely different from what people think. All the girls we followed for the documentary went to school and had after-school activities, and lots of people are bilingual, and speak French or English. People have a sense of pride about their community and family but everyone we met said they’d love to live in an apartment with plumbing that doesn’t flood when it rains.”

Big screen
It’s taken some five years for Mujeres con Pelotas to reach the big screen for various reasons, as Ginger explains. “Gabriel and I started working together soon after we met, mainly providing production services for companies from the US and Europe who come to Argentina to film. But in 2008, with the financial crisis, many places closed their acquisition departments so we had a lull. But we had a small camera and were on the lookout for a project, and we found out about Mónica Santino, a famous soccer activist, who now coaches the girls we then filmed. We’d talk to the girls, slowly gaining their trust and some days we’d film, some days we’d hang out. We made it into a short film that went to 20 film festivals around the world then applied for INCAA (film institute) funding and carried on filming, fitting it in around our work.”

Mujeres con Pelotas, which opened on Thursday in Buenos Aires, follows Las Aliadas del 31 team based in Villa 31 and their fight to form a team. Ginger says: “The movie is about how this ragtag group has come together and learned how to be a team, besides showing that it’s hard for any woman to play soccer in Argentina. We also interviewed various women coaches at River and Boca Juniors, a lot of people don’t even realize these clubs have women teams.”

Now that the project has reached fruition, Ginger should have a bit more time on her hands, but probably not for watching movies. “I used to watch lots of films but I go a lot less to the cinema. I used to watch 20 films at Bafici film festival, but I only go now if it’s a friend’s première. I also write my blog Filming in Argentina and publish reviews of Argentine films in English along with some other writers I’m trying to spread the world that Argentina makes more than 150 feature films and 400 commercials a year.”

She might also have the chance to enjoy being in San Telmo more, the neighbourhood where’s she lived since 2002.

Ginger says: “I’ve always lived there, first in shared houses then in 2006 I moved in with Gabriel. I love the architecture and the street life, people are always walking around, which makes me feel safe. There’s a definite sense of community and neighbourhood there’s a lot of free spirits. I don’t smoke but you know when you’re in San Telmo because of the wafting pot smoke! It has got more touristy and gentrified, which I don’t like and I’d also say it’s more expensive than Palermo! And I’ve probably been to the fair around 500 times.”

Buenos Aires Herald, May 10, 2014
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