‘Cocote,’ ’A Night of Calypso,’ ‘Aquarius’ Win Big at IFF Panama

‘Cocote’ gets passport to Cannes, as ‘La Matamoros,’ ‘Bellas de Noche’ also take plaudits

PANAMA CITY — “Cocote,” by Dominican Republic director Nelson Carlo dos Santos and Panama music documentary “Una Noche de Calypso,” from Argentine director Fernando Munoz topped the 3rd Primera Mirada, announced as its joint winners during the closing ceremony of IFF Panama, that wrapped Wednesday.

Each film will receive a $7,500 award – a 50/50 split of the sidebar’s total prize. “Cocote” will screen at the Cannes Film Market and its producers receive Cannes Film Festival accreditation, full travel and accommodation.

Meanwhile, in IFF Panama prizes, all determined by public vote, “Aquarius,” from Brazil’s Kleber Mendonça Filho took the People’s Choice Copa Airlines Audience Award for best Ibero-American fiction feature, and Delfina Vidal’s “La Matamoros” best picture in the Panama Fest’s key Central America and Caribbean competition,  while “Bellas de Noche” won best documentary.

“Cocote” turns on an Evangelical Christian who attends the burial of his father in his hometown, where he has to participate in religious cults that clash with his own beliefs. “Calypso” is about a once famous Calypso band that is getting together again. The project was also screened in the works-in-progress sidebar at the Havana, where it won the ARACNE DC Post-Production prize.

The other two projects in competition were “Trinidad and Tobago filmmaker Mariel Brown’ “Unfinished Sentences,” about a daughter coming to terms with the death of her father and Puerto Rican helmer Ari Maniel Cruz’s “Who are You?” -about a distinguished doctor whose wife is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Starring Sonia Braga as a moneyed widow who resists a real-estate development company’s pressure to abandon her home, “Aquarius” was always one of the frontrunners of Ibero-American films at IFF Panama, well-received at Cannes and a follow-up to “Neighboring Sounds” that is “a more subtle film but no less mature,” according to Variety.

A prize for Vidal’s women’s rights leader portrait “La Matamoros” marks welcome recognition for an emerging doc auteur whose “Caja 25,” screened at the IFF Panama in 2015, delivered a fresh take on Panama-U.S. relations.

Portraying the past and present of Mexico’s top ‘70s/80s showgirls. “Bellas de Noche” snagged a Morelia best documentary plaudit, a theatrical bow from exhibition giant Cinepolis, “and a Netflix pick-up. Produced by Cinepantera and Detalle Films, two top Mexican outfits, it marks director Maria Jose Cuevas’ maiden feature.

A total of 48 eligible films were submitted to the Primera Mirada competition this year – compared to 46 in 2016 and 32 in 2015.

The projects were evaluated by a three-person jury formed by Julio Hernandez Cordon, director of “Behind There’s Lightning” and 2015 Primera Mirada winner with “I Promise You Anarchy, Carlos A. Gutiérrez, of New York non-profit media arts organization Cinema Tropical: and Virgine Devesa, co-founder of Paris-based independent sales company, Alpha Violet.

During the festival’s closing press conference it was announced that Puerto Rican post production house Reaktor Post, has decided to offer DCP copies to all four films playing in the sidebar, due to the strength of the selection, even though it had originally only pledged to offer a DCP copy to the winning film.

This was the first year that the Inter-American Development Bank was involved in Primera Mirada, by contributing the $15,000 prize money.

IFF Panama’s director Pituka Ortega Heilbron said the joint-prize decision was due such a strong and inspiring set of films. “This is quite extraordinary what’s happening. The fact that businesses are becoming involved in the development of a burgeoning industry.” She added: “The IDB is tapping into the fact that film is such a powerful medium for these countries,” says Heilbron. “Film is not just an industry. It has a tremendous educational impact. Film is an identity builder.”

During IFF Panama’s closing ceremony, it was also announced that the IDB is launching a short film competition in Panama for 3-5 minute videos, that can be produced in any format, from cell phone to animation. “They want to be super flexible in the format because they want to open up the creative juices of the local talent,” explained Heilbron.

Toronto Fest programmer Diana Sanchez, artistic director of Primera Mirada and IFF Panama, said filmmakers received lots of feedback, and in many cases it was the first time that the projects were ever shown to an audience beyond the core technical team.

“The filmmakers have been hanging out and talking with each other, often coming up with new ideas to complete their films,” she added.

“This year, we’ve reinforced the industry dimension of the festival, through a strong selection of films in Primera Mirada and the launch of the Campus Latino initiative, in conjunction with the Goethe Institut in Mexico,” concluded Heilbron.

“Since we launched the Festival in 2012, our objective has been to build a major industry meeting-place for Latin American filmmakers, especially those from Central America and the Caribbean, and we’re extremely happy with our increasingly strong industry presence.”

John Hopewell contributed to this article

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