Breaking through, pt. 4: Elan and Jonathan Bogarin on magical realism, doc funding

As recent studies concerning the sustainability of carving out a career in documentary filmmaking have made clear, it’s not a line of work for the faint of heart. But simultaneously, ...
May 30, 2019

As recent studies concerning the sustainability of carving out a career in documentary filmmaking have made clear, it’s not a line of work for the faint of heart. But simultaneously, with more platforms and audiences hungry for content and new opportunities for funding and distribution emerging, perhaps it’s never been a better time for passionate creators to enter the fray. In this four-part series, Realscreen spotlights several directors who have taken the plunge and are breaking through with their early projects, including Elan and Jonathan Bogarin. You can also read our previous profiles of Nanfu Wang, Bing Liu and Waab al-Kateab.

Major credit: 306 Hollywood

Siblings and filmmaking partners Elan and Jonathan Bogarín have garnered several awards and high praise since directing their first feature, 306 Hollywood, in 2018, under their El Tigre banner, including being named among Filmmaker Magazine‘s 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2017.

306 Hollywood was produced in association with Chicago Media Project and Laokoon Filmgroup. It received support from Sundance Institute Documentary Program / JustFilms Ford Foundation, Hot Docs, IFP, and NYSCA, as well as winning the Cuban Hat Audience Award for best pitch at the 2017 Hot Docs Forum.

The film is a magical-realist look at the siblings’ family history, and an archaeological excavation of their late grandmother’s house, turning her life into a metaphor for the nature of memory, time and history.

What led you to make 306 Hollywood?
Jonathan and Elan Bogarín: We wanted to make a documentary in which ordinary people feel as extraordinary on screen as they do in real life. Our grandmother was a huge influence on us but how could we show her imagination, humor and honesty to people who didn’t know her? We borrowed from 2,500 years of art history and weaved mythology into the story of an ordinary/extraordinary woman who lived most of her life in a small house in New Jersey.

How did you go about financing the project as first-time documentary filmmakers?
JB/EB: We started a production company and spent years creating videos and digital strategy for some of the world’s top museums and arts organizations. This served as a source of funding as well as a valuable way to build our filmmaking skills. As we got towards the end of the process we received funding from an amazing group of investor EPs and grantors who really believed in our work.

It looks like the magical realist approach to non-fiction is taking off. What are the advantages of blending other genres into documentary?
JB: The traditional languages of documentary have certain limitations, and it’s really exciting to be among a generation of filmmakers and audiences who are expanding the ways we see reality in film.

EB: I find the filmic language of non-fiction to be limiting. Stemming from the tradition of journalism, we’re told that we’re only allowed to use the following four languages to depict “truth”: interview, archival, vérité, and recreations. However, this leaves out the subjective experience of a character — how do they feel? Blending magical realism and other storytelling techniques into non-fiction allows us to create documentaries that don’t just report facts but depict the inner lives, memories and realities of real-life people.

What advice would you give to emerging filmmakers?
JB: Build collaborations and partnerships early on so that you have as much support as possible. Ask a lot of questions. Create a strategy as best as you can and adjust as needed because things will never go quite as planned. Find your story and believe in it.

This story first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.