IFF Panama: ‘Noeli’ Producer Reyes Preps ‘Golden Boys,’ ‘Beauty Kingdom,’ ‘Luis’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Desiree Reyes, winner of the 2nd IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada, talks about her next moves

Desiree Reyes
Photo by Martin Dale

PANAMA CITY — Desiree Reyes, producer of Laura Amelia Guzman’s “Noeli Overseas” – winner of the 2nd IFF Panama’s Primera Mirada roughcut sidebar – talked to Variety about the pic and other projects on her slate.

“Noeli” is an experimental docu-feature starring young actress, Noeli, played by Yanet Mojica, who co-starred in the critically acclaimed 2014 fiction film, “Sand Dollars,” alongside Geraldine Chaplin, from the same producer and director team.

The pic follows the actress Noeli as she travels to Venice to shoot a short film, “De Djess,” directed by Alice Rohrwacher, 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.

Guzman accompanied Noeli on her trip and filmed everything herself with a BlackMagic pocket camera, thus giving an intimate feel to the documentary. Reyes explained that they were slightly concerned that Noeli might want to remain in Europe, but during the journey she was constantly in contact with her home in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic and it was clear that she wanted to return to give her dance classes – teaching bachata and salsa.

Reyes said that Noeli wasn’t at all attracted by the glamor of cinema and fashion and just wanted to go home. Her mother had lots of things that might attract her daughter – lots of clothes, bags, and material possessions – but Reyes says that deep down she didn’t want her daughter to live her life as an emigrant.

The most experimental dimension of the project has been its editing, per Reyes. Winning Primera Mirada will help them work on the sound, re-recording some sounds, and buying music rights. They also want to work on the color correction.

The Dominican producer also talked about the current state of the film industry in the Dominican Republic which she says is very interesting in the wake of a film law, which provides significant tax credits for productions in the island.

As the second largest island in the Caribbean, after Cuba, the Dominican Republic, with a 10 million population, has seen a boom in filmmaking recently, with a major hike in the market share for local films. In 2015, 19 local films were released, among 221 films in total, clocking up 25.5% of the territory’s total box office.

The second and third top-selling films in 2015 were local comedies: Archie Lopez’s “Tubérculo Gourmet”, produced by Reyes, and “ Pueto Pa’mí.”

“Tubérculo Gourmet” continued its run in 2016 and is the country’s biggest success over the last five years, with 551,502 spectators and total box office of $2.2 million.

Reyes enjoys producing local comedies, which she considers are of high quality. Such productions also enable her to produce auteur pics such as “Sand Dollars” and “Noeli Overseas.”

“Sand Dollars” was also released at home, but given its more complex story had a much more limited run, four  weeks, and a total of 7,000 spectators. However, unlike local comedies, it travelled widely.

Local comedies from the Dominican Republic have enjoyed successes in Puerto Rico, Panama, and on Hispanic pay TV channels. In 2013, Archie Lopez’s previous pic “Lotoman 003,” produced by Reyes, had a premiere in New York.

“The main challenge for the Dominican Republic is to find distributors for our films in other countries,” says Reyes. “Our films can travel and have a natural audience in nearby countries. When it has been possible to release them abroad they have been successful. We have to try both comedies and also auteur films. Winning prizes such as Primera Mirada forms part of a wider strategy to increase awareness of our cinema abroad.”

Following on Primera Mirada, Reyes and Guzman will accompany the film to the Cannes Film Market, as a result of an alliance between IFF Panama and Cannes, Panama Goes to Cannes. Reyes says that they will work on the edit but will still show a rough cut version in Cannes. Reyes is currently producing boxing drama, “Golden Boys” that is co-directed by Guzman and her husband Israel Cárdenas, which is expected to be concluded by the end of 2016.

The same team is also developing “Beauty Kingdom,” starring Geraldine Chaplin that will shoot in 2017, about a ghost that appears during the shooting of an international film in the Dominican Republic. Reyes says that it is a kind of a homage to local director Jean Luis Jorge, who died in the year 2000.

She also has another project with Archie Lopez, called “Luis,” a drama about a local cop and his relationship with his adolescent son, to be released in November.

Overall Reyes is delighted by her experience at IFF Panama: “It’s really moving to be here, to talk with international media and meet with other producers from the region and possible distributors. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity at home.”