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Panama Increases Its Global Cinematic Footprint

Upcoming international releases include Abner Benaim’s ‘My Name is not Ruben Blades’ and Arturo Montenegro’s “Frozen in Russia”

PANAMA CITY — Panamanian films represented over 10% of IFF Panama’s screenings, including closing pic, Abner Benaim’s “My Name is not Ruben Blades.”

“This is something that was unthinkable 10 years ago, when we didn’t even have one film per year.” said Benaim,

“Blades” had its world premiere in South by Southwest (SXSW) where it won the 24 Beats Per Second audience prize, and will have a wide theatrical release in Panama, plus bows in Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico.

In 2017, Panama produced the two biggest local hits in Central America and had the region’s fastest-growing box office. The pics playing at IFF Panama revealed themes of recurring interest in national cinema, such as social injustice, sport, music and local history.

Alberto Serra had two pics screening at IFF Panama – “Sin Voz,” about an indigenous girl who gets raped and runs away to Panama City, and “La Fuerza del Balon,” a documentary about the build up to Panama’s qualification for this year’s World Cup in Russia.

Serra is now working on two other soccer films, as well as the documentary “Portobello Blood.” He was line producer on 2014 horror flick “Indigenous” and is now planning two US-financed horror films that he will direct.

Carlos Aguilar Navarro’s documentary “Panama Al Brown” is about boxing’s first Hispanic world champion (1929-35) who was fully integrated into Paris’ artistic circle, as friend to Picasso, William Faulkner and Coco Chanel, lover of Jean Cocteau and tap-dancer for Josephine Baker.

IFF Panama’s Teatro Balboa was packed for the screening; Navarro says that he was amazed by the shouting and applause when the film ended. He would now like to adapt this larger-than-life story into a feature film.

“In Panama there is a boxer on every street corner. It’s like football in Brazil. It’s part of our national idiosyncrasy. It helps poor people get out of poverty.”

Fernando Muñoz’s documentary “A Calypso Night,” about a performance by the Grupo Amistad, won second prize in the Primera Mirada rough-cut sidebar in 2017, enabling the director  to conclude the post-production. It had its world premiere in Miami, where the audience danced during the screening. He is now prepping “Wigudun,” a film about trans-gender individuals in the Kuna culture of Panama.

Daniel Zapateiro’s documentary “Paname: The Ghost of the Great Frenchman” is about Suez Canal builder, Ferdinand de Lesseps, who made the first unsuccessful attempt to build a transoceanic canal in Panama.

Zapateiro, who currently works as a engineer in Paris, aims to show that Lesseps’ main problem was a design flaw since he wanted to make a sea level canal, instead of using locks.

Local helmer Arturo Montenegro aims to build on the success of his Carnival-set romcom, “Grace and Splendor” – which clocked up 81,609 admissions in Panama – with the $1 million “Frozen in Russia,” whose plot is directly linked to Panama’s historic debut at this year’s World Cup.

The film’s plot revolves around a vow made by the lead character, played by Joshua Blake, to marry a Russian girl if Panama qualified.

With breathtaking speed after Panama’s qualification in October last year, Montenegro wrote the script, raised the funding, cast the film and in December began a 24-day shoot in Russia, followed by a further two weeks in Panama.

On May 31, 20 days before the World Cup’s kick-off, “Frozen in Russia” will have a simultaneous release in five countries in the region -Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

Montenegro is now planning his first English-language pic, “Unfollow,” based on a game show that accepts celebrities who want to become anonymous, and “Mrs Lizzie,” about a transexual father.

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