PANAMA CITY — Argentine actor Ricardo Darin (“Truman”) graced the red carpet at Panama City’s Teatro Balboa on Thursday night, in the company of leading international producers, directors and actors for the opening ceremony of the 8th Panama International Film Festival.
The 1,145 seater Teatro Balboa was packed for the occasion and as Darin took the stage he was greeted with enthusiastic applause and cries of admiration, to which he grinned, waved and replied in English: “I love you too.”
Fest director Pituka Ortega Heilbron thanked the national authorities, private institutions and local audiences for their support for Panamanian cinema and for the festival, which she said has now become an institution of national heritage.
IFF Panama Foundation’s president, Yasser Williams underlined the economic impact of cinema in Panama, citing data from the Inter-American Development Bank which suggests that for every $1 invested in cinema in Panama an additional $1.5 in revenues is generated.
Panama’s creative sector, known locally as the “economia naranja” (orange economy), has mushroomed since IFF Panama was launched, rising from 3.1% of GDP in 2012, to 6% in 2018, and according to Williams, due to overall GDP growth, now generates 6 times more revenues.
“When IFF Panama was launched there were virtually no local films being produced, there was no film fund, we had neither quantity nor quality of local film production. But the situation has altered drastically. In 2018 we had seven national premieres in theaters and 10% of all films released in the country were Panamanian productions” – said Williams.
Eduardo Palacios, Minister for Trade and Industry, highlighted the importance of foreign shoots in Panama, with 66 international productions in 2018, including reality shows, feature films, TV series, tourism videos and other productions.
He added that local production has grown through public and private partnerships, with 36 feature films and documentaries produced between 2014 and 2018, and 20 Panamanian productions released in theaters between 2017 and 2018.
Ortega Heilbron then introduced IFF Panama’s artistic director, Diana Sanchez, emphasizing that Sanchez is a pivotal figure for the fest, due to her intelligence, knowledge of Latin American cinema and overall enthusiasm, and congratulated her for her recent appointment as senior film director of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Sanchez underlined the magic of IFF Panama and the dedication of the entire festival team, thereby making it possible to “dream together.” She thanked Panama for her own personal experiences in the country having spent over a year living in the country. She revealed that when her 9-year old son was asked at school what he was grateful for in the world he said: “I’m thankful for Panama – for the whole country.” Sanchez said she feels the same.
Darin rounded off the opening ceremony, saying that it was privilege to be back at the fest, after attending in 2017, and thanked Pituka and Diana, as long-time friends and for their passion for cinema.
He said that IFF Panama has become an important festival for Latin America as a whole since it provides links and contacts throughout the region and is an important showcase for production from the region.
“I don’t agree when people say that our films are small stories. They’re about people and they raise big, profound issues.”
He then introduced Juan Vera’s “An Unexpected Love” which previously opened 2018 San Sebastian Film Festival, saying that “the film seems to be about a discussion between partners after 20 years of marriage, but it actually reveals layers beneath layers, as it explores human existence and issues of personal conflict and social conflict that we often face in silence.”
The 8th IFF Panama runs April 4-10 in Panama City.