Panama Film Fest Consolidates Role as Hub for New Caribbean Cinema

Toronto International Film Festival
'Sand Dollars'

IFFP kicks off its fourth edition, seeing results in a rising film scene.

The fourth edition of the Panama International Film Festival (IFFP) kicks off on Thursday in Panama City, consolidating its role as the main hub for Central America’s fledgling movie scene.

Described by fest director Pituka Ortega Heilbron as “the heart of this festival”, its Stories from Central America And The Caribbean section has become the trademark of the event ever since it was created four years ago as a natural consequence of a film law that enabled government funds for local film production, which had been virtually non-existent for 60 years.

This year’s expansion of that program, from its usual 5 or 6 to 10 films from all across the region, reflects a rising film scene. The section features world premieres of Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias’ political documentary Box 25 (Panama), Cesar Diaz’s Liberated Territory (Guatemala) and Costa Rica’s Two Waters, directed by Patricia Velazquez, as well as Latin American premieres of Guillermo Zouain’s On the Road, Somewhere (Dominican Republic) and Ana Bojorquez and Lucía CarrerasThe Greatest House in the World (Mexico).

“The cinema of this region is the cinema of the future,” said Ortega Heilbron at a press conference held on Thursday at the American Trade Hall, a new venue for the festival as the Summit of the Americas' presidential delegations have taken over the city. 

The program also includes titles that have already enjoyed recognition, such as Jayro Bustamante’s Ixcanul Volcano, the Guatemalan-French winner of the Berlinale’s Alfred Bauer Prize and topper of the Cartagena and Guadalajara film festivals; Geraldine Chaplin-starrer Sand Dollars, a Toronto entry by helmer duo Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman co-produced between the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Argentina; and Cuba’s Oscar-bid Behavior, by Ernesto Daranas.

The program completes with Nicaragua’s Naked Screen, from French actress-director Florence Jaugey, and The Crow’s Nest, by Arturo Menendez (El Salvador).

Yet Central American entries also extend beyond IFFP’s competition, with Costa Rica’s first-ever blockbuster, Maikol Yordan (Miguel Alejandro Gomez), and the collective work Historias del Canal, directed by five different Panamanian directors and focused on the Panama Canal.

IFFP is also premiering its work-in-progress support program First Look, featuring five projects that will receive a $25,000 prize for postproduction.

“IFFP is committed to promote the region’s cinema,” said Ortega Heilbron. “We are a small region with a new cinema and a new film language, and we feel Panama’s mission is essential to launch our filmmakers into a promising future,” she added.

Panama Film Agency DICINE head Stephen Proano mentioned that while government funds encourage filmmakers to develop finer scripts, foreign film productions have also functioned as training schools for local professionals. “Over the last year, around 35 foreign productions, including fiction film scenes and reality shows, have been working here,” he said, noting that has contributed to production of local films.

“We are breathing more cinema and we are creating a bigger self-esteem as we are actually able to do these things. We have a festival and a positive legislation, and we’re making the most of it”, he added.

The Panama International Film Festival runs April 9-15 in Panama City.

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