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IFF Panama Kicks off With Zest and ‘Viva’

5th Panama Fest, the highest-profile movie event in Central America, bowed Thursday in Panama City

PANAMA CITY — A bevy of international producers, directors and actors walked the red carpet in front of Teatro Balboa, in Panama City’s atmospheric historic quarter, for the opening ceremony of the 5th Panama International Film Festival, with Paddy Breathnach’s Cuban-set “Viva,” playing as the opening pic.

The fest’s director Pituka Ortega Heilbron began by explaining how the fest has grown since its 2012 bow and to date has welcomed over 350 films and over 450 international guests.

She then reminded the audience of the power of film and cited the example of the Pakistan film “Girl of the River,” about honor killings, which in February of this year won an Academy Award for Best Short and led to the introduction of a law abolishing this abhorrent practice.

“Cinema can change the world,” she exclaimed to loud applause. She then listed the social issues raised in some of the films screening at the fest, such as racial hatred, sexism, social and political questions. She said that the opening film “Viva” is a classic example, and emphasizes the importance of values such as love, compassion and acceptance.

The President of the IFF Panama Foundation, Yasser Williams Arosemena then took the stage and said that the fest’s success is due to multiple factors, first and foremost because it is fruit of Panamanian culture, a 100-year old history, dotted by key events such as the construction of the Panama Canal and which have brought a constant flow of international visitors to the country.

He said that creating the festival had been a “Mission Impossible”-style task worthy of Tom Cruise, but had been achieved with resounding success.

Co-founder of the IFF Panama, Rob Brown, a Canadian multi-tasking arts fundraiser and journalist, added on stage that government-commissioned studies had demonstrated that every $1 invested in the sector generates $13 in taxes, jobs and tourism.

Panama’s Minister of Tourism, Gustavo Him said that the festival, attended by leading directors, producers and actors places Panama in the international spotlight as a key center for the seventh art. He also confided that his own personal life has been linked to the world of cinema, in particular via his mother Blanca Beatriz Casanova, a leading Latin American actress.

The Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Nestor Gonzalez, emphasized that his ministry is committed to upping its support for the sector, including greater support for educational workshops, a pronouncement which Panama’s movie industry will have listened to with large interest.

He cited the fact that in 2015, 14 Panamanian projects were screened in top festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, San Sebastian, L.A. and Buenos Aires, garnering over 20 prizes.

He also added that this year the Biarritz Festival Latin America is planning a country tribute to Panama.

Finally, he referred to the forthcoming Panamanian release of Jonathan Jakubowicz’s boxing film, “Hands of Stone,” starring Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who is attending the fest.

The fifth IFF Panama runs April 7-13.

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