PANAMA CITY — On Thursday night, Panama City’s Teatro Balboa hosted the opening ceremony for the 7th Panama Intl. Film Festival, screening this year’s foreign-language Oscar winner, Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman.”
The screening took place in the presence of the film’s lead actress, Daniela Vega.
This year’s edition has a record number of films and participating countries – 75 films from 51 countries, including two world premieres. Since the fest’s launch in 2012, it has welcomed over 4,300 films and over 700 international guests.
Speaking onstage to a packed audience in the 1,200-seater cinema, fest director Pituka Ortega Heilbron greeted “extraordinary films, extraordinary guests, a passionate audience and a hopeful future for the cinema of our region, to which we are deeply committed.”
She noted that more than 10% of our program is occupied by Panamanian cinema. “The local industry is growing and we are happy to be its platform. We are absolutely ecstatic that our filmmakers want to screen and have their world premieres with us.”
Fest’s main sections include the Ibero-American Portal, Stories from Central America and the Caribbean and the International Portal, which are complemented by special presentations, open-air screenings, and “Cine en el Barrio” – neighborhood screenings – which brings films and filmmakers to deprived areas of Panama City.
Novelties of this year’s edition include the Green Program – with three films dedicated to environmental issues.
IFF Panama is progressively strengthening its industry credentials via the Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar for films from Central America and the Caribbean sidebar, which recorded almost a 50% rise in submissions this year.
The festival will also host a three-day documentary workshop, run by Everardo Gonzalez (“Devil’s Freedom”) which last year ran under the Campus Latino umbrella, and is now an independent initiative, once again co-ordinated by Bettina Walter of Documentary Campus.
IFF Panama is one of Panama’s biggest cultural events and its brand has been estimated to be worth $20 million, with a direct impact of $16 million on the local economy, and a significant multiplier effect in terms of raising the country’s international profile and attracting tourism.
This year’s edition includes a notable line-up of films with strong female leads, including the opening pic, “A Fantastic Woman,” and titles such as Laura Mora Ortega’s thriller “Killing Jesus,” Marcela Said’s “The Dogs,’” Gustavo Salmerón’s comedy “Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle,” Carla Simon’s autobiographic debut “Summer 1993,” Alexandra Latishev’s “Medea” and Anahí Berneri’s prostitution drama, “Alanis,” which won best director at San Sebastian.
Eight Panamanian titles are screening at this year’s edition, including the closing film – Abner Benaim’s docu-feature about the best-known Panamanian: “Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”.
Other Panamanian pics take in Enrique Castro Rios’ “Decembers,” which has its world premiere Saturday evening and includes powerful archive footage of the U.S. military invasion of Panama; Christian Escobar’s culinary doc-feature, “T’ACH,” and two films by Alberto Serra – sex-trafficking drama “Without Voice,” and soccer film, “The Strength of the Ball.”
Also flying the flag for Panama is Carlos Aguilar Navarro’s boxing pic, “Panama Al Brown – When the Fist Opens” and Fernando Muñoz’s music docu, “Calypso Night,” which screened last year in the fest’s Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar.
“Panamanian cinema has expanded tremendously over the last few years,” says Ortega Heilbron. The film fund helped kick start and “reallly push forward” the industry. A lot of independent films are being made and the festival offers “a great opportunity for filmmakers from Panama and the region to connect and view one other’s work.”
She added: “Panama has the connectivity. It is lucky to have the Panama Canal and the banking center and an enviable geographic location. You can get here easily from anywhere in the Americas, Europe and the world. We are a hub and we can use that not only to our advantage but to the advantage of other filmmakers in the region.”
Many of the films screening during the festival will be accompanied by their directors and IFF Panama’s other international guests include actresses Oona and Geraldine Chaplin, Swedish Film Institute president Anna Serner, Sundance Productions’ co-founder Laura Michalchyshyn, Mexican scriptwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego, who will give a 4-day scriptwriting workshop, actor Eduardo Noriega.
The Education Program – which plays an important role in developing new talent in Panama and Central America – includes a Sound Design workshop with Argentinian musician Sebastián Vázquez and Peruvian sound designer Jorge Muñiz; a low-budget filmmaking workshop with American director Andrew Hevia; a workshop on VOD opportunities in Latin America with Brazilian producer Paula Gastaud.
There will be two round tables held in the Cinepolis multiplex, where five screens will be dedicated to the fest, one on the role of women in a globalized world with Anna Serner, Vania Catani (“The Movie of My Life”), Laura Michalchyshyn, Laura Gómez (“Orange is the New Black”) and Judith Rodríguez (“Cocote”), moderated by fest director, Ortega Heilbron; and the other on film criticism, with Klaus Eder (Fipresci), José Romero, Vanessa Erazo and Daniel Domínguez.
Ortega Helibron said that she’s delighted to welcome Anna Serner to the festival in her first visit to the region.
“It’s a real coup to get Anna to come. She has changed everything about women’s opportunities in Sweden and this has had a ripple-through effect in Europe. In just three years at the Swedish Film Institute, she has achieved so many things.”
Ortega Helibron added that she thinks that the panel on the role of women may have an important impact: “We want to build awareness of how women are often used to accepting certain conditions in society, especially in Latin American society, which is very conservative. But it doesn’t have to be that way. These five women have made choices that can inspire us.”
“I’m really happy with this year’s line-up,” concluded the fest’s artistic director, Diana Sanchez: “People want to come and show their films here. It’s an intimate festival. You can spend real time with people. Every year people meet up and agree to co-produce new projects. It’s going to be a great year – Lucky Seven!”
The 7th IFF Panama runs April 5-11.