Ecuador’s Javier Izquierdo on ‘Panama,’ About Guerrilla Combatants’ Double Lives

Based on a real life event, ‘Panama’ is one of the more ambitious fiction projects from Ecuador

Javier Izquierdo
Courtesy: Javier Izquierdo

Ecuador’s Javier Izquierdo is a journalist, screenwriter and filmmaker. He’s directed both the documentary “Augusto San Miguel Died Yesterday” and the mockumentary “A Secret in the Box,” and he penned Tomas Astudillo’s “Moments of Campaign.” In “Panama,” which was pitched at Mar del Plata’s first LoboLab film project co-production forum, Izquierdo explores the double lives of South American guerrilla group members by expanding on a real-life encounter.

“Panama” is based on a true story. Tell me a bit about the real story and how closely you stuck to the original facts.

“Panama” is inspired by a real story of a coincidental encounter between Juan Carlos Acosta, one of the leaders of Ecuadorian left-wing guerrilla group Alfaro Vive Carajo (AVC), with an old classmate and buddy from the exclusive high school they attended in Quito (in Panama City) in 1985. In real life, the encounter probably lasted no more than a couple of minutes, but in the film it takes place during a few days.

What lead you to turn this story into a film? Was there something specific that inspired you?

The fact that the old friend of Juan Carlos (who told me this story) didn’t know what his buddy was up to when he met him in Panama and only found out he was a guerrilla leader after news of his death during the kidnapping of a banker, a couple of months later. It turns out that Juan Carlos used to travel to Panama for strategic reasons. The “double life” most guerrilla members lead, having to create a cover up story for their activities, is what interests me the most.

You’re still in development right now. What’s been the most difficult aspect of creating the film thus far?

The most difficult aspect so far has been combining real life events with fiction, as well as intimate drama with elements of a thriller.

You’ve directed a documentary and a mockumentary, and now you are spearheading  a project that’s based on a true story. What is your process like for each of these different films? Did you have similar or separate approaches for each film?

I like to say that I come from documentary film. The first film I made is a documentary about the pioneer of Ecuadorian cinema, whose silent films were mysteriously lost. The second film is a mockumentary about a fictitious Ecuadoran writer from the “boom generation,” whose life and works are closely related to real historic events, such as the border conflict with Peru. “Panama” is a feature film about the armed movements in the eighties through a story of friendship. Although they have all had different approaches, what they share is a common interest in exploring Ecuadorian history.

How has your journalism experience shaped you as a filmmaker and screenwriter?

I studied journalism and worked as a reporter and photographer in my youth, but I think the main influence has been as a consumer of printed material since most of the stories for my films have come from reading books and articles, and I am in general curious about the things around me.