PANAMA CITY — “Noelí en los países” (Noelí Overseas) has won the second edition of IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada pics-at-roughcut sidebar for films from Central America and the Caribbean. “Noeli” receives a $10,000 award and will screened at the Cannes Film Market. The producers will also receive Cannes Film Festival accreditation, including full travel and accommodation.
Enrique Castro Rios’ “Sultan,” from Panama, received a special mention and a $5,000 prize.
“Noeli” is from the same producer and director team of 2014’s critically acclaimed “Sand Dollars,” starring Geraldine Chaplin, a fest hit which sold to a strng of countries. It continues the tale of the same young actress, Noeli, played by Yanet Mojica.
The film follows Noeli as she travels to Europe to shoot a commercial in Italy and then reunites with her mother, who works as a housekeeper in Spain. Although Noeli has always dreamed of emigrating, once she’s away from home, she senses a deep longing to return to her native land.
The other three projects in the Primera Mirada competition were Jurgen Ureña’s “Abrazame como antes” (Hold me Like Before), the character portrait of a transgender prostitute in Costa Rica, mixing near-docu observation, fantasy and performance; Yanillys Perez’s “Esperanzas de Cartón” (Jeffrey), about a 12 year-old Dominican boy who dreams of reggaeton stardom and again mixing docu and more fiction film-style registers; and Bahamas-born Maria Govan’s “Play the Devil,” a psychological drama-thriller and meditation on violence set against the the background of the build-up to Trinidad’s Carnival Season.
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A total of 46 eligible films were submitted to the competition this year – compared to 32 in 2015. Three of the five films are by female directors.
In announcing the selected projects, the jury – Ivan Giroud Garate, president of the Havana Film Festival; Yissel Ibarra, head of strategic projects for the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE); and Jaie Laplante, director of the Miami Intl. Film Festival – stated that the selected projects were those which could most benefit from post-production support at this stage.
Interviewed by Variety, the jury members clarified that they considered that all of the films winners in their own right, and offer exciting new approaches to filmmaking while tackling important issues.
After the screenings, the jury spoke at length with the filmmakers associated to each project. The members disclosed that it’s very interesting to be able to provide detailed feedback while the final cut of the projects is still open for alterations.
The directors interviewed by Variety reinforced this idea: It was important to discuss their projects with the jury and also fellow directors and other guests. The jury also revealed that they feel that Central American and Caribbean cinema has taken a significant step forward recently, with multiple new voices emerging. On the basis of the talent emerging and the new issues being tackled, there will be a boom over the next two-to-three years, the jury predicted.
Diana Sanchez, artistic director of Primera Mirada and IFF Panama, said that it had been a very intense two-to-three days at Panama. 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.
“This kind of competition is not just about screening a film and waiting to see who receives the prize. It’s a chance to receive valuable feedback. The filmmakers have been hanging out and talking with each other, often coming up with new ideas to complete their films.”
In the case of one film, Sanchez explains that a viewer had read the script and noticed a big difference with what was on the screen, which she said provided a chance for some very enlightening feedback.
Art directors from Buenos Aires design company Boogieman also attended the screenings and, as part of the sidebar competition. will be preparing posters for each project.
This year’s selection included an English-language film from the Caribbean, “Play the Devil” — underlined the fact that Central American and Caribbean cinema isn’t just about Spanish-language films.
“Devil” producer Abigail Hadeed emphasized this point: “It’s very significant that this competition has brought English-language Caribbean countries into the fold. We often feel isolated in the region. Notwithstanding the language difference, all of the countries in the region share a great deal in common. Due to the fact that we speak English, we often look north, but this type of initiative encourages us to look south and makes us feel part of a bigger community.”
Its director, Maria Govan, agreed: “Festivals like IFF Panama and also the Trinidad and Tobago Festival have built bridges within the Caribbean and have played a more important role in this regard than anything else, even sports.”
IFF Panama’s director Pituka Ortega Heilbron said she was delighted with the second edition of Primera Mirada. “Last year’s first edition, which gave the award to ‘I Promise You Anarchy,’ put us on the map. This year, we’ve received highly invigorating projects. It’s been very exciting. I’m sure that all five films will do very well in the market.”