PANAMA CITY — One of the core goals of IFF Panama when it was founded in 2012 was to provide a new window and international launch-pad for films from Panama and the rest of Central America and the Caribbean.
Last year the festival bowed a Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar, including a cash prize to help with post-production and a screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
The initiative was immediately welcomed by the region’s filmmakers: They often have to work miracles just to get their shoots completed and desperately require post-production completion finance.
Last year’s Primera Mirada winner, “I Promise You Anarchy,” by Guatemalan director Julio Hernandez Cordon, is returning to the fest this year, after its world premiere at Locarno, followed by screenings in Toronto and San Sebastian.
“Winning Primera Mirada last year was extremely important for the film,” explained Cordon. “Not just because of the financial injection, which enabled us to secure all the music rights we wanted for the soundtrack, but also because we were able to go to Cannes and the prize created a buzz for the film which was essential in getting it known.”
Costa Rican Ariel Escalante’s “The Sound of Things” also won a smaller prize last year and went on to screen in various festivals; “Kenke,” from Panama’s Enrique Perez Him, another 2015 entry, is screening in this year’s Panama Fest.
The second edition of the Primera Mirada films-at-roughcut sidebar offers a $15,000 post-production award. Also, via a IFF Panama-Cannes Marché du Film alliance, Panama Goes to Cannes, the winning film will be shown to fest programmers, sales agents and distributors at a special screening during the Cannes Film Market. Unlike last year, its producers will also receive Cannes Film Festival accreditation, including full travel and accommodation.
At IFF Panama, all Primera Mirada projects will be screened in exclusive private sessions for industry representatives – including guest sales agents, distributors, and film festival programmers.
The films are selected by IFF Panama’s artistic director Diana Sanchez, who is also Pprogrammer for Latin America for the Toronto Festival.
“There are other work-in-progress competitions in the region, including in Guatemala’s Icaro fest and Havana’s Cinema in Progress sidebar, but our initiative has really galvanized the interest of the region’s filmmakers,” said Sanchez. “We’ve received submissions from most countries in the region. There are also a few others, such as Haiti, from where I’d also love to receive a film.”
“Primera Mirada has reinforced the industry dimension of our fest,” said IFF Panama director Pituka Ortega. “Our goal is to spark the imagination of industry professionals and provide a platform for the region’s filmmakers who need an injection of energy and funding to get their films completed and onto the festival circuit. We’ve been amazed by the response.”
A total of 46 eligible films were submitted to the competition this year – compared to 32 in 2015 – and five will screen at the fest.
Three of the five films are by female directors. Enrique Castro Rios’ “Sultan,” from Panama, takes place ten years after the 1989 U.S. military invasion of Panama, in which three estranged survivors reconcile their previous differences after finding out that they all lost loved ones in the invasion.
Through a story about loss the pic addresses the deep racial divisions that exist in Panama.
Jurgen Ureña’s “Abrazame como antes” (Hold Me Like Before), is about a transgender woman, Veronica, who works as a prostitute on the streets of San José in Costa Rica. After a young man Tato is hit by the car of one of her clients, she takes care of him in her home. The film explores their growing and challenged relationship. Filled with color, the pic explores the theme of a search for family, as Veronica faces fierce resistance from her friends.
First time femme helmer Yanillys Perez’s “Esperanzas de Cartón,” (Cardboard Hopes) is about a 12 year-old Dominican boy, Jeffrey, who cleans cars and dreams of being a Reggaeton singer. Although the pic shows a tough urban setting, it reportedly has an ingratiating tenderness.
Bahamas-born Maria Govan’s “Jugar a ser el diablo” (“Play The Devil”), from Trinidad and Tobago, is set against the rich landscape of Trinidad’s Carnival Season. It explores the relationship between a young black working-class eighteen-year-old and an older affluent businessman, James Young, who starts to stalk him. The film ends vividly at a carnal dance scene, in which the Carnival revelers paint themselves blue, before erupting into violent confrontation.
“Esperanzas” and “Jugar” both feature primarily black casts and show harsh urban settings, filled with color, music and dance.
Laura Amelia Guzmán’s “Noelí en los países” (Noelí in the countries) is by the same producer and director team of 2014’s critically acclaimed “Sand Dollars,” starring Geraldine Chaplin. It continues the tale of its same young actress, Noeli, played by Yanet Mojica. The pic takes off from the previous film, as Noeli travels to Europe to shoot a commercial in Italy and then reunites with her mother, who works as a housekeeper in Spain, whom she hasn’t seen for 10 years. Although Noeli has always dreamed of emigrating, once she’s away from home, she senses a deep longing to return to her native land.
In a powerful party scene, that highlights the difference between Central American and European culture, the partygoers put on reggaeton music and everyone is spellbound as Noeli starts to dance.
“There are certain common themes that emerge in the films playing in this year’s Primera Mirada,” says Sanchez. “The directors have an incredible eye on how to film bodies. It’s not just about the actors’ movements. It’s where the directors choose to place the camera. The films convey tremendous vigor, energy and youthfulness to the place. You feel that everything is here to be created. This is really relevant to the cinema from this region. Cinema in this region is just starting. The different societies are bursting with new ideas, art and creativity. It’s a very exciting moment.”