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Panama’s Abner Benaim Readies ‘Plaza Catedral’ with Mexico’s Ilse Salas (EXCLUSIVE)

Panama’s internationally best-known helmer, Abner Benaim (“Ruben Blades Is Not My Name”) has moved into pre-production on his second fiction feature film, “Plaza Catedral,” which is set to star Mexico’s Ilse Salas, who has just won Mexican Academy’s Ariel Award for best actress for her performance in Alejandra Marquez’s Toronto hit “The Good Girls.”

Salas has also starred in both movies to date from Alonso Ruizpalacios, with Marquéz Mexico’s fasting-rising new director, whose “Museum”proved a standout at the Berlin and Toronto Festivals last year.

“Plaza Catedral” is scheduled to begin its six-week shoot in Panama City in August. In it, Salas plays a 42 year old grief-stricken woman who has severed her ties with married life and society.

“This complex, melancholy character finds herself in the tropical paradise that Panamá pretends to be, with its primary colors and a society obsessed with economic success and having a good time,” explained Benaim.

He added: “The juxtaposition between a tormented soul and a carnival atmosphere is very compelling, and even more so when it is a woman experiencing grief and reacting to it in ‘unconventional’ ways, for example behaving like a stereotypical Latino macho would.”

A boy, “Chief,” who looks after people’s cars, one day comes bleeding into her house. As she cares for him, she begins to transform her outlook on life.

The feature is a Panama-Mexico co-production between Benaim’s  Apertura Films and Matthias Ehrenberg’s Barracuda Films (“Before Night Falls”), with Ruben Sierra Salles (“La Familia”) executive producing.

It has tapped funding from Panama’s Dicine film fund and Ibermedia, was developed at EAVE and the Jerusalem Lab and won Best Pitch Award at the 2015 Berlinale Talent Market.

Salas will co-star with a 13 -year old boy in his debut role, who will be chosen after a large open casting call in the neighborhoods featured in the pic.

Crew includes DP Lorenzo Hagerman (“Heli”) art director Coca Oderigo (“Motorcycle Diaries”) and editor Soledad Solfate (“A Fantastic Woman”).

Described by Benaim as a “dark film in a colorful tropical setting,” the story takes place in Panama’s historic old quarter, where rich and poor still live side by side. It returns to one of Benaim’s favorite themes, the contrast between rich and poor, but represents a shift in cinematic style, as he explores a thriller-drama, with a neo-noir aesthetic.

Benaim has been progressively consolidating his career as a director. 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 is now on HBO in the U.S. and Latin America. It was also Panama’s submission for best foreign-language film at the 91st Academy Awards.

“Plaza Catedral” is scheduled for a 2020 release.

CREDIT: Anthony Loew

Pictured: Ilse Salas (lead), Abner Benaim (Bottom)

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