Panama’s internationally best-known helmer, Abner Benaim (“Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”) has just completed the shoot for his second fiction feature film, “Plaza Catedral,” starring Mexico’s Ilse Salas (“The Good Girls”), and Manolo Cardona (“Narcos”).

Salas plays a 42-year old grief-stricken woman, Alicia, who has severed her ties with married life and society. Her life is turned upside down when a 14-year old boy, “Chief,” who looks after people’s cars, comes bleeding into her house.

The boy is played by first time actor, Fernando de Casta, who was chosen from over 250 kids who came in for open casting in the same neighborhoods in Panama´s old town where the film’s plot takes place.

“What started out as a very small production quickly turned into medium-size, and sometimes large for Latin American standards,” explained Benaim.

“We had a very demanding schedule, many locations, and Panama’s tropical weather to deal with. I wanted to shoot during the rainy season to capture the cloudy skies and the rain as part of this tropical melancholy that I was looking for,” he went on. “So we had a Plan B for almost every day, and had almost no downtime. I guess we were planning to be lucky, and we were. We got the beautiful, loaded skies, and didn’t get delayed by the weather.”

The 35-day shoot in Panama City involved a crew from 12 countries, including DP Lorenzo Hagerman (“Heli”), art director Coca Oderigo (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and sound technician Cesar Salazar (“Jungle”). The pic will be edited by Soledad Selfate (“A Fantastic Woman,” “Gloria”).

Benaim said he was delighted with the actors’ performances. “This was a big challenge. We had one of Mexico’s most talented actresses for the lead role and the rest of the characters were mostly played by non-actors who had never been in front of a camera before.”

He added: “But right from day one I was confident when I saw the chemistry between Ilse Salas and Fernando de Casta, who plays the second most important role in the film. It was very beautiful to see their relationship grow on set and off, and to see that magic transposed to the footage.”

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Apertura Films

Colombian actor Manolo Cardona made a special appearance as the ex-husband. “This was a very emotionally charged role where we needed someone who could dive in directly to the depths of the role,” says Benaim.

The film is a co-production between Benaim’s Apertura Films, Mexico´s Barracuda Films, headed by industry vet Matthias Ehrenberg and Colombia’s Blond Indian (Carlos García and Maria Alejandra Mosquera. Exec producer is Ruben Sierra Salles. It has support from Ibermedia and Dicine, Panama’s film fund, was developed at Eave and The Jerusalem Lab, and won Best Pitch Award at the 2015 Berlinale Talent Market. It has production support from Chanel, Mercedes Benz and Copa Airlines.

The Panamanian helmer has been progressively consolidating his career. His first feature, “Chance,” clocked up 140,000 admissions in Panama and 150,000 admissions in Colombia. Docu-feature “Invasion” drew 50,000 spectators in Panama, won festival kudos abroad and was Panama’s first ever submission to the Academy Awards. His 2018 music doc, “Ruben Blades,” world premiered in South by Southwest (SXSW) where it won the Audience Prize, in the 24 Beats Per Second section. It had a multi-territory release –  in Panama, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and was screened on HBO in the U.S. and Latin America. It was also Panama’s submission for the 91st Academy Awards.

Benaim believes that Panama has great potential to produce cinematic gems that can capture international interest. “Panama is magical in many ways, it’s a sort of Fellini land; where people and places tend to amaze you with their raw talent.”

“Plaza Catedral” is scheduled for a 2020 release.

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Apertura Films