PANAMA CITY — Paddy Breathnach’s Cuban-set “Viva,” set in Havana’s drag nightclubs and selected as Ireland’s entry in this year’s foreign language film Oscar race, will open the fifth Panama International Film Festival (IFF Panama), which bows this Thursday, April 7.
Director Pituka Ortega Heilbron and artistic director Diana Sanchez consider this year’s edition the strongest to date, given the breadth of films slated, the range of guests, the record number of industry events and – key — the unprecedented number of films screening from Central America and the Caribbean.
“There are incredible films now coming out of this region,” says Heilbron. “We’re fortunate to have the perfect prerequisites for a coordinated and well-functioning festival, given the location of Panama City, its connectivity, infrastructure, hotels, access and support from the government, private sector and the local business sector.”
In a mere four years, IFF Panama has carved out a distinctive space on the crowded festival circuit and now ranks as Central America’s highest-profile fest.
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The fifth edition has also reinforced initiatives aimed at film industry professionals, including the second edition of the Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar – with five films from Central America and the Caribbean screening – that now offers a $15,000 post-production award.
Guests at this year’s edition include New York-based musician-performance artist Laurie Anderson, who will be attending with her acclaimed cine-essay tribute to her late terrier, “Heart of a Dog,” and Geraldine Chaplin — who will make her third visit to the fest, accompanying director Patricio Castilla, who will be screening “Street Name: Pirate.”
Chilean-American composer Nicolas Jaar will present Palme d’Or winner “Dheepan,” for which he created the musical score and will participate in an extended Q&A session. Italian actress Lucía Bosé will be honored at a special gala, attended by writer Boris Izaguirre, Spanish Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes, director of the National Film Archive of Spain Chema Prado, and Miguel Bosé.
Chilean Patricio Guzmán, the dean of Latin American documentary filmmakers, will host a four-day documentary seminar and present his Berlin-winning “The Pearl Button.”
Other special guests attending IFF Panama include Golden Globe-nominated Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez (“Carlos”), Mexican actor Damián Alcázar (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”), Spanish director Javier Ruiz Caldera (“Spy Time”), Indian helmer Kabir Khan (“Bajrangi Bhaijaan”) and Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson.
Since its launch in 2012, IFF Panama has become a key showcase for Ibero-American and international cinema and has consolidated its position as an important platform for films from Panama, Central America and the Caribbean.
The fest includes a Stories of Central America and the Caribbean sidebar, including Arí Maniel Cruz’s “Before the Rooster Crows” (Puerto Rico), Hernán Jiménez’s “Tamarindo” (Costa Rica), Miquel Galofre and Tyler Johnston’s “My Father’s Land” (Haiti/Bahamas), Paz Fábrega’s “Viaje” (Costa Rica), Guido Bilbao’s “Time to Love. A Backstage Tale” (Panama), and Julio Hernández Cordón’s “I Promise You Anarchy” (Guatemala-Mexico).
Sanchez and Ortega Heilbron believe that this year’s unprecedented number of Panamanian films also demonstrates that the fest has attained a new level of maturity.
Panamanian films screening take in “Salsipuedes,” “Drifting Away,” “El Cheque,” “The Route” and “Time to Love — A Backstage Tale,” plus “Sultan,” in the Primera Mirada roughcut sidebar, and Abner Benaim’s documentary “Zachrisson.” Enrique Pérez Him’s “Kenke” will also screen in a special presentation.
“IFF Panama has become a real platform to launch Panamanian films to an international audience, including festival programmers and industry professionals from around the world visiting the fest,” explained Diana Sanchez: “When we started four years ago, we had no local premieres in our program. Now we have five, as well as ‘Sultan’ in the Primera Mirada section.”
Sanchez is also a Latin America programmer for the Toronto Festival, which enables synergies between both fests and several Ibero-American films screening in the fest also played in Toronto.
Films from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, which in previous editions screened in two sections, are now concentrated into the single Ibero-American Portal I.
This year’s highlights include several thrillers: Jonás Cuarón’s Toronto-player political survival thriller “Desierto,” starring Gael García Bernal; Pablo Trapero’s family abduction thriller “El Clan,” starring Guillermo Francella, which had the largest opening weekend of any Argentine film in history; and Arturo Ripstein’s crime drama “Bleak Street,” set in Mexico City’s saddening underbelly.
Comedies include Álex de la Iglesia’s showbiz satire “My Big Night,” Javier Ruiz Caldera’s spook spoof “Spy Time” and Federico Vieroj’s belated coming-of-age dramedy “The Apostate,” starring Álvaro Ogalla, as well as Anna Muylaert’s mordant comedy of manners “The Second Mother,” the best-selling Brazilian movie internationally of recent years.
The Ibero-American Portal also includes several debut pics: social-issue-themed actioner “Retribution,” by Spain’s Dani de la Torre and starring Luis Tosar; Salvador del Solar’s atmospheric thriller “Magallanes”; Carlos Caridad-Montero’s beauty pageant satire “3 Beauties”; Lorenzo Vigas’ “From Afar,” which won the Golden Lion at September’s 72nd Venice Festival; Francisco Varone’s cross-generational road movie, “Road to La Paz”; Alejandra Márquez mother-and-son drama “Semana Santa”; César Augusto Acevedo’s Critics’ Week winner, the rural drama “Land and Shade”; and Juan Sebastián Quebrada’s bittersweet urban romance “Strange Days.”
IFF Panama’s other main competitive section is the International Portal, which showcases films from around the world.
Highlights include Jaco Van Dormael’s Cannes-playing madcap fantasy “The Brand New Testament,” starring Benoit Poelvoorde and Catherine Deneuve; Iranian Jafar Panahi’s Berlinale Golden Bear winner “Taxi,” about contemporary Tehran; Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Mustang,” which won major kudos at Cannes and at Spain’s Goya Awards; Abderrahmane Sissako’s Academy Award-nominated “Timbuktu,” which won seven César Awards; and Grímur Hákonarson’s deadpan sheep farming comedy “Rams,” which topped Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
The International Portal also includes a world premiere – John Asher’s autism drama “Po,” starring Christopher Gorham and Kaitlin Doubleday.
Six films in the International Portal will have their Latin American premiere: Yuval Delshad’s coming-of-age drama “Baba Joon,” about a rebellious 13-year-old Iranian-Israeli boy; Leyla Bouzid’s “As I Open My Eyes,” set in the days before Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution; Nanni Moretti’s “My Mother,” about a middle-aged female director, starring Margherita Buy and John Turturro; Radu Muntean’s slow-paced thriller “One Floor Below”; Kabir Khan’s Indian epic “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” starring Salman Khan; and Soi Cheang’s organ-trafficking drama “A Time for Consequences.”
IFF Panama’s Premieres sidebar is dedicated to documentaries and includes Davis Guggenheim’s “He Named Me Malala,” about Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai; Ernesto Cabellos Damián’s “The Daughter of the Lake,” about a conflict between local Peruvian farmers and Latin America’s biggest gold producer; Patricio Guzmán’s “The Pearl Button,” a portrait of Chile immense Achipelago, its people and tragedies, which won a 2015 Berlinale Silver Bear best screenplay award; and “My Father’s Land,” co-directed by Miquel Galofré and K. Tyler Johnston, about 105-year old Papa Jah’s return to his native Haiti.
Also in the line-up are Maite Alberdi’s “Tea Time,” about five Chilean women who over the last six decades have met every month for tea; Karolina Bielawska’s debut docu “Call Me Marianna,” about a Polish woman who undergoes sex reassignment surgery; Rodrigo H. Vila’s 3D soccer project “Boca Juniors 3D”; guitarist docu “Paco de Lucía: A Journey,” a portrait of an artistic genius who also proves an acute observer of his times, his art and other Spanish greats; D. Johnson’s “Al Purdy Was Here,” about larger-than-life Canadian poet Al Purdy; and Maria Augusta Ramos’ “Future June,” about the paradoxes and contradictions of Brazilian society.
IFF Panama also has a “Family Corner” that showcases family films. This year’s selection includes Andrés Waissbluth’s “A Horse Named Elephant,” Virginia Curiá’s “Caroline and the Magic Potion” and Alê Abreu’s kaleidoscopic social parable “Boy & the World,” an Academy Award nominee for best animated feature.
The fifth IFF Panama runs April 7-13.