PANAMA CITY — In March 2019, IFF Panama’s artistic director Diana Sanchez, was appointed senior director of film at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, as part of a wider remodeling of the fest’s senior management.

Sanchez has served as artistic director of IFF Panama since its launch in 2011 and has also worked with many different festivals, including programming for the Houston Latin Wave and the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival.

Under her new role, in addition to programming for the main fest, she will coordinate  the TIFF Cinematheque, Film Circuit and theatrical programming at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Speaking to Variety she looked back at the achievements of IFF Panama – where she will continue in an advisory role – and the challenges posed by her new appointment.

What do you think have been the main achievements of IFF Panama to date?

When we began the festival in 2012, we had to screen some Panamanian films that were over 10 years old, because local production was minimal. But we’ve progressively seen audiences growing as people have increasingly embraced the festival, local production has mushroomed, and filmmakers from throughout the region have viewed the festival as a key platform for their films. Until now we’ve only had audience awards. Initially, audiences primarily chose comedies but they’ve progressively voted for more complex dramas. A good example is Laura Mora Ortega’s “Killing Jesus” which won last year’s Audience Award for best film. The fact that Fipresci will be giving a jury prize this year is further consolidation of the festival and will amplify the international recognition of the films playing here. We also expect the audience figures in 2019 to mark a record high.

How has IFF Panama increased its industry dimension?

We don’t want to create a market at the festival because we don’t think that would be economically viable. But a series of industry events held during the festival, such as the Locarno Industry Academy this year, has established bridges between producers, distributors and sales agents.

This has been reinforced by the Primera Mirada rough-cut competition which we launched in 2015, which has had an amazing response, with films such as Nelson Carlo De Los Santos “Cocote,” a joint winner in 2017, enjoying a very robust festival life.

What do you see as the next steps for IFF Panama?

IFF Panama has an excellent curatorial team in place and I will continue to serve as an adviser. In everything I do, I depend on the strength of my team and I think IFF Panama has a magnificent team, which will enable us to consolidate the festival further. With our eyes on the tenth edition there are several possible developments, but with no definitive decisions to date. One possibility is to establish an Official Selection, which would reflect the growing maturity of films from the Central America and Caribbean region – let’s see what happens!

What do you think will be the main challenges of your new position at TIFF?

This feels like a very natural step. I have already developed projects with the teams I’ll be working with. For example I worked with the TIFF Cinematheque on the exhibition I recently co-curated with Guillermo del Toro, “Sui generis – An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema.”

I think the new post will require a combination of curatorial skills and also administrative skills and I think that the experience of building a festival from scratch, as we’ve done at IFF Panama, will be extremely useful. We have a bunch of great programmers – colleagues I’ve been working with for years. It’s a very vibrant and diverse team. I think that’s it’s essential to watch films with other people in the selection stage and hear different opinions.

Is this a good moment for Latin American films?

Absolutely. One of the most exciting prospects with my new position will be the chance to see films from all around the world, and I think that there are many exciting works being produced in every corner of the globe -two areas that come to mind are Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. But, yes, I do think that films from Latin America are having more and more relevance and some of the world’s most interesting filmmakers are from Latin America. But obviously we’re talking about my comfort zone, what I know best. I’m so excited to be branching out!