PANAMA CITY  — Five films from Central America and the Caribbean are screening at the 5th Primera Mirada, IFF Panama’s pix-in-post sidebar, which has become a major springboard for upcoming films from the region.

The sidebar is particularly important for the region’s filmmakers who often desperately require post-production completion finance and mentoring advice.

The winning film receives a $15,000 cash prize from the Inter-American Development Bank and will be screened at the 2019 Cannes Film Market.

The pics in competition this year are Ana Elena Tejera’s “Panquiaco” (Panama, Portugal), Sofía Quirós’ debut feature “Ceniza Negra” (Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, France), Héctor Valdez’s “Malpaso” (Dominican Republic), Anaïs Taracena’s documentary “The Silence of the Mole” (Guatemala) and Fernando Blanco’s documentary “Por eso vengo al río” (Dominican Republic).

Variety spoke with the representatives from each project – who answered the following questions: 1) What is the background to this project?; 2) What are your expectations from attending Primera Mirada?; 3) Will this be your first time at IFF Panama?

“Ceniza Negra” – Mariana Murillo (Sputnik Films)

1) The inspiration behind Sofía’s debut feature is her own family’s experience of loss and coping with change against the raw and breathtaking landscapes of Costa Rica and the Caribbean, and the local culture that approaches death with celebration instead of suffering.  How can a girl come to terms with death and find the courage for her loved ones? 13-year old Selva, has to understand life through death, experiencing her mourning from a healing and magical place. The pic was shot entirely in the Limon province, with non-professional actors. We shot the pic in August 2018 after four years of development. The film has the support of Costa Rica’s National Fund, El Fauno, Ibermedia, the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde (France), World Cinema Fund and Tribeca Latin American Film Fund among others.

2) Primera Mirada will give us important feedback and contact with sales agents and festival programmers.  It also offers the opportunity to obtain additional financing to complete acquisition of music rights and delivery requirements for the film.

3) Sputnik Films attended Primera Mirada’s first edition with Ariel Escalante’s ‘The Sound of Things’ where it won a Special Jury Mention. In 2017 the film returned and was screened in the “Stories from Central America and the Caribbean” section.

“Panquiaco” – Maria Isabel Burnes (Too Much Productions)

1) The idea was born from Ana Elena Tejera’s research into oral stories and indigenous character myths prior to colonization. “Everything was dark, there was no sun, no moon, no animals, no plants. The sea was everywhere, the sea was the mother, she was spirit, it was thought and memory. ” In this poem is the relationship that the indigenous people have with the sea as a center of origin is clear. The mythological sense of the sea has changed since colonization and one of the precedents of this change was the so-called “Discovery of the South Sea” in 1513 when Vasco Nunez de Balboa arrived at the Isthmus of Panama in search of gold, and spoke with Panquiaco, an indigenous man who took him through the Darién jungle to the Pacific Ocean. This journey made Balboa a symbol of Panamanian identity: his name is recorded in the currency, avenues and national awards. Our film is about this conflict – the two seas that suffer sadness for having given the news to Balboa, which undermined the cosmovision of the original indigenous people. Panquiaco is reincarnated in Cebaldo, a character that Ana discovered during her research who highlights the need for decolonization in order to heal and surrender to the earth.

2) We are in the final editing phase. We have had support for production and post and are now looking for funding to finish the film. We hope to get feedback to finalize our final cut and to start to search for the world premiere. Hopefully we will get financial support to finish the film.

3) We are very happy to participate this year at IFF Panama because this is our home.  We have always attended the festival as spectators and industry guests, but this is our first time participating in a section of the festival with a movie.

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 “Por eso vengo al río” – Fernando F. Blanco Rivas

1) We worked on this project for more than four years, and finally focused on the life of Sintia, a Dominican woman who lived between Lebanon and Syria for more than 30 years. She and her family have survived countless attacks in the city of Aleppo, Syria. She is now living in the Dominican Republic where she is trying to reunite with her family. Her husband lives in Syria and her son in Lebanon. We traveled to each of those countries to capture the essence of each character. This film is a powerful love story in the midst of war. It is a cry for private interests over good. We believe that our film is a unique work with an interesting perspective addressing family love in the midst of a humanitarian crisis in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, that has taken place in Syria.

2)  Being in Primera Mirada with other Latin American movies encourages us to continue developing this documentary. We are very excited to show this stage of our post-production in this important festival.

3) Yes, this is our first time at IFF Panama and it is the first festival in which the documentary is presented to the industry.

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“Malpaso” – Héctor Valdez

1) “Malpaso” is a black and white film that tells the story of two orphaned, undocumented brothers growing up on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. One of the film’s primary goals is to echo the realities experienced by young people living on the margins of society as well as the tense coexistence between two different cultures. It does so by telling the story from the eyes of Candido, an albino boy who experiences what life on the border is like for the first time after the death of his grandfather, protected by his twin brother Braulio. We tried to be as truthful as possible to the story and capture the coexistence between Creole and Spanish in the process. We cast non-professional actors who have had similar experiences to the characters and believe that this is a very timely film that can raise awareness internationally on the growing tensions between the two countries.

2) This will be the first time we ever screen the film in front of an audience and we are very interested in getting feedback that could help us improve it. We also want to raise the remaining funds to have it ready for festivals in the Fall. Participating in Primera Mirada will better position us in terms of international distribution opportunities.

3) Yes, and I’m very excited to go. Ever since its first edition in 2012, IFF Panama has quickly become one of the most important festivals in the region.

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“The Silence of the Mole” – Anaïs Taracena

1) I started the research more than four years ago, right after the death of the main character. We have received three development and writing funds: Imcine in Mexico and Scam and CNC in France, and participated in a number of workshops.

2) For me the most important thing is to have a feedback from our first cut. It’s a somewhat complex documentary, anchored in the period of political repression in Guatemala City during the war in the ‘70s and ‘80s. At the same time “The Silence of the Mole” explores the moment when revelations of obscured past can open cracks in the walls of silence. That’s why we are very interested in having an external look, to see if our editing and our assembly script is on the right track. Of course we would be glad to receive a prize to help us finish post-production especially the sound and color correction.

3) Yes. Right now we are presenting our rough cut in the Costa Rica Film Festival with six other projects from Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador.