'Three Many Weddings' Tops Panama Film Fest

Apertura Films
Abner Benaim’s "Invasion"

Abner Benaim’s "Invasion" wins Best Documentary and Central American Film.

BUENOS AIRES -- Spanish film Three Many Weddings by Javier Ruiz Caldera topped the Ibero-American Fiction competition at the third International Film Festival Panama, which closed April 9 with a screening of Cesc Gay’s A Gun in Each Hand.

Ruiz Caldera’s film, a comedy about a woman and her three ex-boyfriends, stars Inma Cuesta, Rossy del Palma, Quim Gutierrez and Paco Leon. “I guess they like me here better than in my own country," said Ruiz Caldera, who also won last year at the fest with Ghost Graduation.

The Documentary Competition was topped by Invasion by local filmmaker Abner Benaim, who holds the record of beating James Cameron’s Avatar at the local box office with his comedy Chance (2009), the first Panama-produced film in 60 years and the country’s most popular film ever.

His latest movie, also named best film from Central America and the Caribbean, depicts the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama -- the military incursion that led to the capture of Manuel Noriega -- from the perspective of local people’s memory of the attack, in which hundreds died.

"These awards are so important for me, because they both come from the audience vote, which means people connected with the film," Benaim told The Hollywood Reporter. "It was important for us to have the world premiere in Panama because of the film’s topic, but I never imagined such a beautiful premiere, with local audiences packing the National Theater, together with directors like Sebastian Lelio and Pablo Trapero, programmers from top festivals, international press ... things that a few years ago I could have never imagined that would take place with a local premiere."

A new but striving festival, IFFP was boosted by a law passed in 2012, which created a fund for local productions and aims to strengthen Panama as a film location. This year, the fest also held two new film-industry events: the high-profile Platino Awards, and the MEETS LatAm co-production market, which welcomed 12 projects and gave a $25,000 award to Daniel Castro Zimbron’s Las Tinieblas (Mexico).

Guests this year included Argentina’s top film star Ricardo Darin (The Secret In Their Eyes), Spanish actor Luis Tosar (Miami Vice), Mexican director Arturo Ripstein and French filmmaker Claire Denis, among others.

Next year's edition of the IFFP is set to run April 9-15.