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IFF Panama: Panamanian Comedy ‘The Check’ to Have Country’s Biggest-Ever Release

Local pic had its world premiere at IFF Panama

Arturo Montenegro
Photo by Martin Dale

PANAMA CITY — Arturo Montenegro, director of local comedy “The Check” spoke to Variety at the IFF Panama about his film, that world premiered in the fest to a packed audience in the Teatro Balboa, and will be released this Thursday, April 14 on 22 screens, the country’s biggest ever opening screen-count.

“It’s a wonderful and unique experience, to be here in IFF Panama,” said Montenegro. “Not only because I’m showing my picture, ‘The Cheque’, but also because Panama is increasingly positioning itself as a film capital for the Central American market.”

The helmer admitted that he was nervous about the world premiere, since he had never screened the pic to a wide audience and wanted to know whether the comedy would click with spectators. But he said he was delighted by the response. “The reception from the audience was amazing. Hearing the audience laugh gave us a lot of energy, after so much work.”

The larger-than-life comedy is about a middle-class-man, Diego, whose life is transformed by the arrival of a new black maid, Dominga. Montenegro reveals that the idea came from a true story, which he worked up into a script with local writer, Virginia Favrega. He says that it mixes tropical magic realism with comedy and poetry.

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The actress Nilka Denny, who plays the black maid, is a non-professional actor who had been in jail for 15 years. Montenegro cast her in the lead role and says that it was an amazing experience to work with her. He says that since the film addressed themes of social prejudice and how social programming can transform people, she was ideal for the role.

Panamanian cinema, still in its infancy, has produced relatively few comedies. One of the first was Abner Benaim’s 2010 hit “Chance.” Montenegro hopes to emulate its success, and reveals that his main cinematic influences include Claude Chabrol, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar.

Budgeted at $0.5 million, the funding for “The Check” was raised through private equity from various companies, including South African brewery SabMiller, Tommy Hillfinger, Panasonic Latin America and local TV channel, Channel 13.

The sound design and sound mixing for the film was overseen by Buenos Aires sound mixer Jose Luis Diaz, who also worked on Damián Szifrón’s “Wild Tales” and Juan José Campanella’s Academy Award winner “The Secret in Their Eyes.” The music was also composed in Buenos Aires, by Pablo Borghi and Jair Hilal.

Montenegro is now planning to direct his second feature, “Male Mom” about a man whose deepest desire is to become a mother. He is once again looking for private equity to make the film and hopes to also be able to reinvest proceeds from “The Cheque.”