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Throughout the pandemic that has ravaged Central America, the region’s most prominent film event, the Panama International Film Festival (IFF Panama), has forged on virtually in its continued bid to bolster local projects and talent.

To mark its 10th anniversary this year, a smaller hybrid edition kicks off on Dec. 3 with “Plaza Catedral,” Panama’s submission to the Oscars, and wraps Dec. 5 with Michel Franco’s “Sundown,” starring Tim Roth, which competed for the Golden Lion at Venice.

“We couldn’t pass up celebrating our 10th anniversary, even if it were on a smaller scale this year,” said festival director Pituka Ortega Heilbron, who cites encouragement from the international and local industry as key reasons to push onward, notwithstanding the setbacks from the pandemic.

“We’re still very much in the mind of the industry, especially Central America,” she asserted, pointing out that two films spawned by the festival’s rough cuts sidebar, Primera Mirada, are among this edition’s showcase of 13 films: “Rafaela,” winner of last year’s Primera Mirada, and Marcel Beltrán’s Cuban migrant doc, “La Opcion Zero,” which world premiered at IDFA.

A filmmaker as well, Ortega Heilbron’s (“The Route”) company Hypatia Films is providing production services to Claire Denis’ Nicaragua-set thriller now shooting in Panama, “The Stars at Noon.” She and her daughter Marcela Heilbron are credited as producers. On Saturday Dec. 4, Ortega Heilbron will be moderating a panel with Denis and her leads Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn and Nick Romano, the first Panamanian actor to land a key secondary role in an international production.

While the Locarno Academy and Primera Mirada sidebars will be virtual, the festival’s IFF Panama Film Match and its official showcase will be in-person. On Dec. 3, Locarno’s Sophie Bourdon and Sarah Schiesser will be on hand to make a live presentation of the program.

Confirmed guests include “Plaza Catedral” lead Ilse Salas, its director Abner Benaim, “Judas and the Black Messiah” helmer Shaka King, “Sundown’s” Franco, “Annette” producer Genevieve Lemal and “Clara Sola” actress Wendy Chinchilla among others.

Created as an instrument for producers and directors in the region to expand their network of contacts and gain access to international funds, the Panama Film Match forum will take place from Dec. 2-4 in Panama City with a selection of 10 projects.

It will include mentoring sessions on production and development for participating projects, as well as personalized meetings with potential investors, producers, distributors, programmers and industry guests participating in the festival.

For Film Match and Primera Mirada, the criteria are essentially the same when it comes to selecting the projects: Quality, viability and whether they will stimulate the film industries of the region and foster its identity.

Given the financial constraints of this year where government funding has been dramatically slashed, IFF Panama will eschew a competitive section for this edition, said Ortega Heilbron.

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Panquiaco Courtesy: Ana Elena Tejera

Instead, the festival will showcase a selection of films that have come through major festivals like Cannes and Venice as well as official Oscar submissions of past and present. These include Leo Carax’s “Annette” which opened the 2021 Cannes Festival where Carax received the Best Director award.

Bosnian war film “Quo Vadis, Aida?” which was nominated for Best Int’l Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, will also screen at IFF Panama.

Biographical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah,” nominated for six Oscars of which Daniel Kaluuya won a Best Supporting actor award, is also playing.

Also forming part of the showcase is Dominican Republic docu “Santo Domingo Waltz” (“Vals de Santo Domingo”), last year’s first prize winner of the festival’s inaugural Su Mirada fund for Central American women filmmakers, valued at $10,000.

Fresh from its Rotterdam world premiere, Panamanian feature “Panquiaco,” by Ana Elena Tejera, will have an in-person screening at this edition, as it only played online when it opened the festival last year. Tejera is expected to attend.

The following are the films participating in the IFF Panama showcase:

“Plaza Catedral,” Abner Benaim, Panama

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Shaka King, U.S.

“Quo Vadis Aida,” Jasmila Zbanic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Romania, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, France, Norway, Turkey

“Panquiaco,” Ana Elena Tejera, Panama

“Sundown,” Michel Franco, France, Mexico, Sweden

“Annette,” Leo Carax, France, Belgium, Germany, United States, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland

“Clara Sola,” Nathalie Álvarez Mesén, Sweden, Costa Rica, Belgium, Germany

“Las Mejores Familias,” Javier Fuentes-León, Peru, Colombia

“A Tale of Love and Desire,” Leyla Bouzid, France

“Rafaela,” Tito Rodríguez, Dominican Repúblic

“La Opción Cero,” Marcel Beltrán, Cuba, Brazil, Colombia,

“Santo Domingo Waltz,” Tatiana Fernández Geara, Dominican Repúblic

“Érase una vez en Euskadi,” Manu Gómez, Spain