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IFF Panama Opens With Carlos Saura’s ‘Beyond Flamenco’

The 6th Panama Fest, the highest-profile movie event in Central America, kicked off Thursday in Panama City

PANAMA CITY — Top international producers, directors and actors walked the red carpet up to Panama City’s Teatro Balboa for the opening ceremony of the 6th Panama International Film Festival, with Carlos Saura’s “Beyond Flamenco” kicking off the festival.

This year’s edition has 70 films from 23 countries including nine world premieres. Since the fest’s launch in 2012, it has welcomed over 4,200 films and north of 600 international guests.

Speaking on the red carpet, Panamanian director Aldo Rey, whose “Kimura” is screening in the fest, highlighted the opportunity of having a major international film festival in Panama and revealed that his film will have a three-country simultaneous release on May 4 – in Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Speaking onstage to a packed audience in the 1,200-seater cinema, fest director Pituka Ortega Heilbron said that the total number of spectators at the festival screenings have grown 125% since 2012. Citing the results of a recent study on the festival’s economic impact, she revealed that it has a direct impact of $16 million on the local economy, with also a significant multiplier effect in terms of raising the country’s international profile and attracting tourism. She added that over the last two years the value of IFF Panama’s brand was estimated as worth $20 million.

Ortega Heilbron also emphasized dramatic change in the local film industry over the past five years, influenced in part by the festival. “Ten years ago, it was impossible to imagine a film festival that could attribute key awards to Panamanian films,” she said. “I’d like to think that in 10 years from now the cinema of our country will set a standard in world cinema.”

Talking of two projects based on the lives of two of Panama’s best known public figures,  boxing champion Roberto Duran and musician Ruben Blades, Panama’s Minister of Tourism, Gustavo Him, said that these films – Jonathan Jakubowicz’s boxing film, “Hands of Stone,” starring Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, which was released in 2016, and Abner Benaim’s upcoming docu-feature about the best-known Panamanian: “Ruben Blades Is Not My Name” – are excellent ways of promoting the country’s image abroad.

Six Panamanian titles screen at this year’s edition. Delfina Vidal’s women’s rights pic, “La Matamoros,” and Tashi Sakai’s “Cimarronaje en Panamá” both play in the Histories of Central America and the Caribbean section; “Kimura,” “The Joy of Sound” and 1926 silent classic, “Garras de Oro” feature in a special presentations selection; and Fernando Muñoz ‘s ‘A Night of Calypso’ will be unveiled in a Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar.

The Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Nestor Gonzalez, announced that his ministry is committed to upping its support for the sector, including greater support for educational workshops. One recent initiative has been training for directors given in collaboration with the London Film Academy. aThis year’s edition indeed includes an ambitious education and industry program with more than twenty different activities, including seminars, workshops, talks and panels, involving more than 2,000 students, as well as free screenings for children and three nights of free outdoor screenings near to Panama City’s historic quarter.

Documentary filmmaking is one key focus. Diana Sanchez, the fest’s artistic director explains that this is because an increasing number of projects from the region are either documentaries or mix documentary styles with fiction.

One of the main innovations is the first installment of Campus Latino, a training initiative with advanced workshops and pitching for talented and experienced filmmakers from Latin America who have insufficient access to the international market. The initiative is coordinated by Bettina Walter of Documentary Campus, based in Berlin and Munich, and will run workshops in Panama, Mexico and Munich. The workshops will focus on Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, in order to improve co-production possibilities both in the region and on an international level.

IFF Panama’s international guests this year include Eugenio Caballero, who will deliver a master class, actors Eduardo Noriega and Miguel Angel Bernal, from Spain, “Aquarius” director Kleber Mendonça and Emilie Lesclaux, from Brazil,  Maite Alberdi, one of Chile’s top documentary makers, Coata Rica’s Jimena Franco and Jurgen Urena. Also on the guest list are Rober Calzadilla, from Venezuela, Mexico’s Angeles Cruz and Lucia Carreras, star and director of the multi-laureled “Tamara and the Ladybug,” Samir Oliveros and Diana Perez from Colombia and Alejando Israel, Ezequiel Borovinsky and producer Gema Juarez Allen from Argentina.

“I love having these filmmakers from the region, where they can talk to young upcoming filmmakers from Panama,” concluded Sanchez. She says that this year’s edition – in terms of both the selected films and the educational initiatives – is one of the strongest to date.

The 6th IFF Panama runs March 30-April 5.

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