The Panama Intl. Film Festival, (IFF Panama) the highest-profile film event in Central America, is using online tools to develop existing and new initiatives.

In one move, it has just completed its pix-in-post competition Primera Mirada, its new Su Mirada sidebar for women filmmakers from the region, and is now launching a new Virtual Co-Production Forum – the Panama Film Match – and a streamlined five-day online festival.

All initiatives are sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank.

IFF Panama was initially slated to run from March 26 to April 1, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Undeterred, the festival has used online tools to maintain its crucial role in supporting new projects from the region.

Launched in 2015, Primera Mirada has served as an important springboard for projects from the region, providing vital post-production funding.

This year’s $10,000 first prize went to Dominican Republic revenge thriller “Rafaela,” by Tito Rodríguez (“Una fiesta inolvidable”).

$5,000 second prize was awarded to Cuban documentary “La Selva,” by Marcel Beltrán.

The Primera Mirada jury members were Chilean producer, Giancarlo Nasi, South by Southwest programmer Jim Kolmar, and Argentine distributor Julia Meik of Meikincine.

Building on the success of Primera Mirada, IFF Panama has also launched a pioneering rough-cut sidebar – Su Mirada – for women filmmakers from the region, evaluated by an all-woman jury, comprised by TIFF’s senior director for film, Diana Sanchez, Argentine producer, Gema Juárez Allen and Cuban producer Lía Rodríguez.

Su Mirada’s $10,000 post-production prize was awarded to Dominican Republic pic, “Vals de Santo Domingo” by Tatiana Fernández Geara,  about three boys in a mainly female ballet class. The pic previously competed in Guadalajara’s Docu Lab.

The $5,000 development prize went to Costa Rica’s “Delirio” by Alexandra Latishev Salazar. Her previous 2017 feature, “Medea” was selected as the Costa Rican entry for the foreign language film category at the 91st Academy Awards

Ramping up its virtual presence, ove May 18-22, IFF Panama will organizing the Panama Film Match (PFM), the first co-production forum for Central America and the Caribbean.

The 10 projects in development are from Costa Rica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Panama, including four Panamanian projects.

Right after the PFM, IFF Panama will also bow a condensed five-day online festival that will feature 12-13 films, including the premiere of Panamanian feature “Panquiaco,” by Ana Elena Tejera, and round tables moderated by Diana Sanchez and IFF Panama’s director, Pituka Ortega Heilbron.

Confirmed guests include Ricardo Darín, Daniela Vega, Yalitza Aparicio, Nico Celis, Jayro Bustamante, Eugenio Caballero and Maite Alberdi.

“Supporting and providing an enabling environment for the flourishing of new filmmakers and the promotion of the film industry has always been important, but now with the COVID-19 crisis doing so is imperative. Generations of talent risk getting lost under these circumstances,” said Trinidad Zaldivar, head of the Cultural, Solidarity and Creativity Affairs Division IDB.

“Creative minds have been hit overwhelmingly. We welcome IFF’s determination to proceed with its festival and keep supporting creative professionals and thus the entire industry.”

Competition in the first edition of the Panama Film Match is expected to be tough, with projects presented by well-known talent from the region, such as Costa Rican director Ernesto “Neto” Villalobos’ third feature, “Love is the Monster,” which previously participated in San Sebastian Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum, Ariel Escalante’s “Domingo and the Mist,” produced by Julio Hernández Cordón, and Panamanian documentary feature “Wild Gleaming Space,” by Mauro Colombo and produced by Abner Benaim.

PFM will include pitching sessions, online screenings, mentoring sessions and virtual meetings with international producers, distributors and programmers, and will culminate with the selection of the winner of the $ 10,000 co-production award.

Projects will be evaluated by a three-person jury – comprised by Colombian producer Diana Bustamante, (“Buy Me a Gun,” by Julio Hernández), French producer Thierry Lenouvel (“Sal,” by William Vega), who is general delegate of the Montpellier Film Festival, and Mexican producer Inti Cordera (“499,” by Rodrigo Reyes), director of the DocsMx film festival.

The virtual forum also includes master classes, with online Q&A’s, that will be made available to industry professionals in Central America. The organizers are also evaluating opening up the masterclasses to the rest of Latin America.

Heilbron is confident that masterclasses on Pitching with Spanish producer Elena Manrique (“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Cell 211”), and on Micro Budget Films with U.S. producer Andrew Hevia (“Moonlight”) will attract major interest from industry professionals.

“It’s important for us that this part of the Americas doesn’t feel as if it has been forgotten,” explains Heilbron. “It needs to show its relevance and the necessity of its existence as crucial for the reconstruction of our nations.  If we are to have a better future this cannot be done without cinema.  It’s as simple as that.”