PANAMA CITY – Confirming its status as one of the most buzzed-about Mexican movie projects, Daniel Castro Zimbron’s fantasy psychological thriller “The Darkness” won the Panama Festival’s inaugural Meets Latin American Co-Production Market Tuesday, taking home a straight $25,000 cash prize.

First presented at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, “Darkness” won the Panama Meets award – an invitation to Meets – at March’s Guadalajara Ibero-American Co-Production Market. The Cannes Festival has also selected it for its May Atelier workshop.

Presided over by Paul Hudson at Outsider Pictures, the Meets industry jury chose “The Darkness” on the basis of its worldwide distribution potential.

“Castro Zimbron is a very talented director who knows exactly what he is doing,” Hudson said.

Produced by Pablo Zimbron Alva at Mexico-based Varios Lobos, “The Darkness” has already attracted prestige Mexican partners for its development: Jorge Michel Grau and Mayra Espinosa’s Velarium Arts and Ozcar Ramirez’s Arte Mecanica.

Popular on Variety

Fitting squarely into Spain and Mexico’s burgeoning modern auteur genre tradition that explores dysfunctional family dynamics – think “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Orphanage,” “We Are What We Are” – “Darkness” will star Brontis Jodorosky (“El Coco,” “Coco Before Chanel”), Zimbron Castro announced at Meets.

The star of the director’s feature debut “Tau,” Jodorosky plays a father who shelters his children in a benighted forest cabin whorled in dense fog and shrouded in perpetual twilight after an undefined global catastrophe. To protect his children, he claims the air is poisoned, and a wild beast stalks the woods, eager for human prey. At Panama, Castro Zimbron described “The Darkness” as a “story of forgiveness, redemption.”

The Meets industry jury, which included Ernesto Munoz Cote at Fox Intl. Channels/Moviecity, Alazraki Entertainment’s Leonardo Zimbron, Paula Gastaud at Sofa Digital and Pretty Pictures’ Aranka Matits, gave a special mention to Frank Spano’s “Gauguin & Canal.” A bigscreen makeover of his award-winning play, it captures the French painter in Tahiti, near death and on trial, thinking back to his sojourn in “savage” Panama, from which he drew much of the inspiration for his paintings. Jean Reno and Carlos Bardem have signed letters of intent to play the painter and the friend he betrayed, Spano said at Meets.

“This is a project we’d all like to see developed further. It has great potential,” said Hudson, explaining the jury special mention.

Among buzz titles at Meets, there was positive reaction to Violeta Ayala’s percipient and pointed docu feature “The Bolivian Case,” which teases out the racism in Norwegian press coverage of one of the biggest narcotics case in its history; Lucia Gaviglio Salkind’s Uruguay-Brazil co-prod “My World Cup,” targeting 8- to 15-year-olds and their families and turning on a 13-year-old soccer star who suffers a knee injury, also attracted a large number of one-to-one meetings on Wednesday.

Among Panama film awards, also announced Tuesday night at a stylish Awards Night Cocktail by the Pacific Ocean, the biggest governmental production grant, $700,000, went to another Meets project, Aldo Rey Valderrama’s social drama-road movie “Dream About the City,” produced and presented confidently by Miguel Gonzalez and Mariel Garcia Spooner at new production house Contraplano Films.

Reworking the novel by Ramon Fonseca Mora and set to shoot in March/April 2015, it centers on a woman who leaves the countryside to rescue her daughter from Panama City, where she has been sold into domestic service by her debt-laden father.

“Regardless of how many times the issue is portrayed on the screen, ‘Dream About the City’ is still very important, showing how women still suffer from machismo,” Gonzalez said at Meets.

The five Meets projects from Panama indeed provided a quick snapshot of Panamanian production, its common concerns and trends and fast-growing financing base.

One is a focus on the downside of rampant economic growth that has given the country the highest GDP growth in Latin America – 7% in 2014, per IMF stats – and a dramatic Panama City high-rise skyline. Femme friendship tale “Piedra roja,” from Alberto Serra, follows a social worker and an 18-year-old single mother, a rape victim, as they set off to find the girl’s father.

“Rabbit Indians,” the new docu from Annie Canavaggio — whose well-received “Breaking the Wave” was one of the two world preems at this year’s festival — has Canavaggio setting off to try to find a legendary lost Rabbit Indian tribe in Panama’s north, while a neighboring tribe, the Nasos, suffer the threat of huge hydro-electric projects being built on their lands.

“The Rabbit Indian and the Naso Indians represent the loss of humanity in our civilization,” Canavaggio said.

Meets also underscored the ever-sturdier government funding systems supporting Central American production. “Dream” was not the only Panama subsidy winner on Tuesday night. Martin Contreras’ “El saco” tapped $491,000 in government funding, Jose “Chicho” Canto’s “La luna es queso” $608,000.

On “Once Upon a Time in the Caribbean,” a Latino samurai revenge actioner set in ’20s Puerto Rico, scribe-helmer Ray Figueroa (“La casa de enfrente,” “La bodega,” “Toque de queda”) said he aimed to raise around $600,000 from Puerto Rico, $800,000 more from the Dominican Republic.

“Just by co-producing in Latin America you can raise significant money without touching Europe or the U.S. or private investors and distribution,” said Meets general director Arianne Benedetti.

The plunge into genre films, often with a social underbelly, as in the mixed-martial-arts redemption action drama “Kimuru,” also a Panamanian project at Meets, is another production trend seen all over Latin America.

“Meets focuses on films that can travel and sell Latin American films around the world,” Benedetti said.

Their number is rapidly growing.

Part of the Panama Intl. Film Festival (PIFF), Meets ran April 7-9.