PANAMA CITY  — The 8th IFF Panama has further reinforced its industry dimension, with a record number of submissions to the Primera Mirada pix-in-post sidebar and more sales agents and festival programmers attending the event, which this year includes the Locarno Industry Academy and a new Fipresci Award for the 12-pic Stories from Central America and the Caribbean competition.

2019 boasts a record number of guests and, according to the organizers, advance ticket sales are higher than ever.

23 films were submitted to Primera Mirada, covering different genres (documentary, hybrids, genre films) from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Panama.

“The selection is powerful and has strong voices,” says Karla Quintero, co-ordinator of IFF Panama’s Industry and Educational Programs. “The films have a consolidated discourse and pay testimony to incredibly sensitive filmmakers in whose films the region’s identity definitely shines through.

She added: “These are exactly the voices this award is meant to amplify and empower. We feel filmmakers have come to realize more and more that this award has been designed to act as part of a support system within the region.”

The Locarno Industry Academy will launch its inaugural edition at IFF Panama, with eight projects, complementing programs held in Mexico’s Morelia, Brazil’s Sao Paulo and Chile’s Valparaíso festivals.

“We really like how the Locarno Industry Academy trains early career professionals in sales, marketing and programming,” says IFF Panama’s artistic director, Diana Sanchez. “It will help them to learn more about those areas, yet also provide a space to build networks. We’re hoping that these professionals will find a lot of the networks that will accompany them through their careers.”

“We are extremely happy with these developments,” adds Fest director, Pituka Ortega Heilbron, “because this is another piece of what we want to build with our festival – which is for it to be a solid platform for the cinema of our region.”

“The distribution and dissemination of Latin American films is challenging and requires an approach that is creative and out-of-the-box,” she adds.

“Competing for a couple of slivers of the pie is not only doable but it can also be very profitable for all the players in the industry. It is our hope that these young and dynamic participants begin to find new ways to help this cinema reach more audiences.”

IFF Panama has provided a vital launch pad for the local film industry and the eight edition includes seven Panamanian films, taking in the world premiere of “Panama Radio” by Edgar Soberon Torchia, a well-known film critic in Latin America.

The Central America and Caribbean section features two Panamanian films: Jose Angel Canto’s “Dry Season” and Mauro Colombo’s documentary “Tierra Adentro,” produced by Abner Benaim.

“I am very excited about Panamanian films in production right now, which will hopefully be part of our program next year,” adds Ortega Heilbron. “There are films by Miguel Gonzalez, Abner Benahim, Luis Pacheco, Delfina Vidal and Mercedes Arias, and Ana Elena Tejera, who is one of this year’s Primera Mirada’s finalists.”

Guests attending the 8th IFF Panama include production designer Eugenio Caballero and actor Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”); actors Ricardo Darin, Rodrigo Santoro and Edward James Olmos;  directors Lila Avilés (“The Chambermaid”), Lucia Garibaldi (“The Sharks,” which won a director’s award at Sundance) and Jayro Bustamante (“Ixcanul”)

Other attendees are producers Laura Michalchyshyn (Sundance Productions), Katayoon Shahabi (Shahrzad), Andrew Hevia (Fabula), Sandrino Saravia (Cinevinay) and Carlos A. Gutiérrez (Cinema Tropical); photojournalist Ron Haviv; and sales agents and distributors Cynthia Wiesner (Wiesner Distribution), Jennifer Weiss (The Film Farm), Luis Rafael Gonzalez (Palmera International), Paula Gastaud (Sofa Digital)

Multiple festival programmers swell industry ranks, including Paul Federbush (international director, FFP Sundance), Heather Ann Haynes (Hot Docs), Nadia Dresti (Locarno Festival), Marjorie Bendeck (Europa Oriental Connecting Cottbus), Iván Giroud (Havana Int’l Film Festival), and Marcelo Quesada (Costa Rica Int’l Film Festival).

Many films screening at the IFF Panama have the directors and/or producers present, including all films in the Central American and Caribbean sidebar. “This is extremely gratifying, since it speaks to their trust of our festival as a platform, that has a positive impact on their films and their careers,” concludes Ortega Heilbron.

The 8th IFF Panama runs April 4-10 in Panama City.