The Panama Film Festival (IFF Panama), with support from the Inter-American Development Bank, is unspooling a five-day online festival, running May 22-26, which includes film screenings and round tables.
Held on May 22, 23 and 24, three online round-tables – two moderated by festival director Pituka Ortega Heilbron and one by TIFF’s senior director, film, Diana Sanchez – questioned leading international talent, based in Latin America and Europe, about what film festivals and film production and distribution will look like after COVID-19.
The panelists were Jayro Bustamante (“Ixcanul”), Nicolás Celis (“Roma”), Cristina Gallegos (“Embrace of the Serpent”) Elena Manrique (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), production designer Enrique Caballero (“Roma”), and actors Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”), Luis Tosar (“Cell 211”), Ricardo Darín (“The Secret in Their Eyes”), Geraldine Chaplin (“Talk to Her”), Daniela Vega (“A Fantastic Woman”) and Marina de Tavira (“Roma”).
Several innovative new projects adapted to the lockdown period were discussed. For example, Spanish actor Luis Tosar talked about a project he is working on with producer-director Álvaro Longoria of Morena Films, who is already making a short format series for TVE called “Quarantine Diaries.” The untitled project is a fiction series starring Luis Tosar and his wife, Chilean actress María Luisa Mayol (“Don’t Open the Door”), who have recorded the scenes in their own house basically with the family unit acting as cinematographer, electrician, wardrobe etc, everything directed via Skype.
Following, 10 Takeaways from the panels:
Film and Theatre Are Contact Sports
The panelists glossed film projects being directed at a distance, but emphasized the key role of close physical contact: Luis Tosar said that the project recorded in his home has been exciting but somewhat frustrating – “Cinema and theater are contact sports, we need to be very close to each other to do what we do, you can probably make some things at a distance, but for how long? Until there are clear solutions to how film sets can be made secure, no-one is making plans.” Ricardo Darin added: “The health and safety protocols are going to make it very difficult to imagine a film set where there are between 60-100 people in situations of necessary proximity. It will be complicated. We’re basically depending on whether we can get close to each other.”
Film Festivals – Still Essential
Festivals will continue to be places to watch films that can’t be seen elsewhere and to allow people to meet informally. COVID-19 and the need to use virtual communication mechanisms whereby people speak from their homes in casual clothing has reinforced a more down-to-earth and informal side to the film festival world, in contrast to glamor and red carpets. That, the panelists thought, was positive step and here to stay. Diana Sanchez noted: “One thing I like about how we are doing festivals now is that there is much less glamour, you see a lot of people at home, nobody has been able to go to the hairdresser, everyone’s wearing casual clothes,” to which Darin quipped: “I’m talking to you now, naked from the waist down.”
Film Exhibition Will Change
Smaller theaters, especially independent cinemas, will face even greater difficulties. Larger operators will find it easier to survive. The trend towards smaller screens, however, may be reversed, moving back towards larger-seater theaters. Drive-ins are reviving and may lead to new initiatives. Tosar noted that “the increase in drive-ins is amazing. In countries like Germany, there are now about double as many. A few have opened in Spain, with projects to open more. I’ve never been to a drive-in, in Galicia there was none and I never had to go to any. Not even here in Madrid. Maybe I can go with my children!”
Netflix and Streaming: Theirs is the Kingdom
Panelists noted that 70% of people have stated they want to watch films at home. Darin felt that this is a result of “paralyzing fear” but will pass. Several panelists agreed that the crisis will reinforce the positioning of streaming platforms such as Netflix.
COVID-19 is a wake-up call
The crisis is forcing us to focus more on the need to protect the planet, reinforce sustainability and preserve nature. Ricardo Darin suggested that “There is something positive about what’s happening. Obviously the human species when threatened, begins to act a bit like ants, a species I truly admire. People begin to think more about the community than the individual. Maybe this is one of the few great messages, lessons that this pandemic can leave us.”
On a separate round-table, Jayro Bustamante developed these ideas further: “I think the crisis is showing us that we are all part of this world, connected to each other and to the land and roots. These experiences are touching us and telling us to return to what Maya culture calls “the spiritual path”, and the need to reconnect with nature.” De Tavira commented: “Bertold Brecht said of the 1929 crisis: ‘And the world continued along its way unable to change.’ If the world doesn’t change after COVID, that will be a failure on our part.”
What Role Can Art Play in Recovery?
IFF Panamá director Pituka Heilbron asked Celis, Gallegos, Caballero, Manrique and De Tavira on Saturday. “I remember Arturo Ripstein once commenting that Mexican cinema had given a sense of identity and hope to Mexicans devastated by the violence of the Mexican Revolution,” said Caballero. “Cinema, theater, literature, the liberal arts in general have a calling to be the conscience of the times we live in,” Cristina Gallegos agreed.
Making It Count
“These times confirm for me the importance of making films which do have a social impact, a reason for existing, and which promote change,” Celis reflected. “I don’t have time to spend three years making a film which is just a pure question of money.” He cited the role played by the Mexican film industry in organizing help during the 2017 Puebla earthquake disaster or the rapid pushback against an attempt by the government to abolish Mexico’s Fidecine film fund, a move which stopped the destruction of other NPOs in Mexico: “The artistic community can be very powerful, high-profile and united” and can have an impact. Elena Manrique agreed: “People haven’t suddenly thought that they have to think up stories which have just one location. What I’m sensing from my colleagues, however, is that everybody’s pretty clear that now stories have to count for something. Nobody just wants to entertain.”
The COVID-19 Crisis Intensifies the Divide between Haves and Have-Nots.
This finds particular expression in Latin America. Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante noted that fortunately his country has not suffered a high level of COVID-related deaths to date, but added that only 9% the population can stay at home, telework, and watch movies, because the majority of the population has no alternative than to go out and work. “52% of our population is chronically malnourished, which means that our defenses are very low. Many people don’t speak Spanish and even fewer speak English, so much of the information doesn’t get through.” Bustamente explained that he has just carried out a campaign with private sponsors to carry the protection messages in all the languages of Guatemala, to adapt to the new normal. Yalitza Aparicio said that with Mexican producer Nicolas Celis they have been developing a COVID-19 campaign in Mexico, in indigenous languages such as Mixteco.
There is More to Life than Covid-19
The pandemic will inevitably be the burning topic for content creators but the panelists agreed that this shouldn’t be allowed to crowd out all other issues. Daniela Vega felt that there’s a need to focus on many parts of society that tend to be overlooked, not just the single “invisible enemy” of the virus: “When we speak about invisibility, we have to talk about indigenous communities, migrants, LGTBI+. We are talking about human stories that have not been taken as human, but as mere anecdotes. It’s up to art and cinema to show these realities, demonstrate who we are and where we are going.”
New Forms of Government Will be Required.
In addition to a new orientation in individual lives, the panelists also agreed that new public policy priorities will have to emerge. Vega noted: “We are talking about human rights, that are not served by different states, by different nations. If people can’t eat and the state can’t solve that, this is not a question of charity, it’s a question of state, of government, planning, use of public resources; and ensuring that public resources reach the people who need it. Charity is for churches and for personal faith. We are talking about public policies that need to protect the people who live in these places.”