What pleasures await in Panama! As part of the invited press corps, I attended the first ever Premios Platino del Cine Iberoamericano where I met numerous
journalists from all over the world, though most particularly from Latin America.
As part of the expanded International Film Festival of Panama, running April 3 to 9, 2014, the Platinum Awards Ceremony was held in the huge Convention
Center Theater just across from the Sheraton where we were given four days.
The old city of Panama is undergoing extensive modernization and gentrification. When finished, it may look a beautiful as Cartagena…both are Colonial
styles, but there is unbearable traffic in the Panama streets which was not the case in Cartagena. The city not only reveals layers and layers of history,
from the indigenous days to the Spanish days of conquest and colonialism where it was the starting point of the quest to conquer the Incas, to the days
when all the gold and silver of Latin America passed through the isthmus here on its way to Spain, to the first 80 years of independence from Spain as a
part of Colombia, from its independence from Colombia with the aid of the U.S., to the days when the French attempted to build the Panama Canal followed by
the early 20th Century when U.S. succeeded, to those days of Noriega which U.S. terminated by invading Panama in Operation Just Cause
under Commander in Chief George W. Bush in 1989, to today when you can see the capital of the world pouring into the economy, building massive sky scrapers
and restoring the old town to its colonial and later French splendor.
What struck me most after the horrible traffic, were the fabulous artisanal goods, of embroidery, straw weaving, bone carvings, gourds, panama hats! This
picture of a Guna woman is an example of one of many selling their wares in rich markets. I could spend a lot of money here if and when I return!
The Panamanian economy has been among the fastest growing and best managed in Latin America. Latin Business Chronicle had previously predicted
that Panama would be the fastest growing economy in Latin America in the five-year period of 2010–14, matching Brazil’s 10% rate. This was obvious from our
tour. The expansion project of the Panama Canal, combined with the conclusion of a free trade agreement with the United States, is expected to boost and
extend economic expansion for some time.
The Panama Canal during an empty moment, as shot by me from the terrace. We saw ships going through as well. In 2014, 100 years after its establishment, a
new canal will allow larger container ships to transport goods between the two largest oceans in the world. This literally positions Panama as the trade
crossroads of the world and it is experiencing an investment surge which astounds the first time visitor (like me!)
After our tour of Panama City and the night we were feted after taking another tour of the Panama Canal, we had dinner and a Festival party on the terrace
Panama’s film history is null, but it is quickly being rectified by Jose Pacheco, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and also the President of the Panama Film Commission,
along with his one-woman band, Arianne Marie Benedetti who has taken maternity leave for the moment.
They are responsible for instigating the new film law, for the four year old film festival, coproduction meetings, and hiring Toronto Latina programmer
Diana Sanchez to program their festival and now the first Iberoamerican Platinum Awards, and much more.
The workshops at this event are outstanding. I wish I were able to hear all they have to say!
, the producer of the $17 million Hands of Stone (ISA: Lotus) which tells the story of the Panamanian boxer Roberto “Mano de Piedra”
Durán, spoke about how this production used 15,000 extras, was shot in over 140 locations. All was filmed and produced in Panama where the producers took
advantage of a 15% cash rebate and a $2.8 million advance from the Panamanian government, the latter expressly offered to make sure they lensed the story
about their national hero Roberto Durán in his native land.
“They gave us full support, dozens of free locations and a level of hospitality that made everyone feel at home,” said Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express). With 15,000 extras and a stellar international cast led by Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Ellen Barkin, John Turturro and Usher Raymond, Hands of Stone recreated four cities and four decades in Panama. “The footage is a million times better than even I
expected,” Jakubowicz said.
Another workshop was given by one of Argentina’s top producers, Verónica Cura. Thirty-five filmmakers, mostly from Panama took part. Vero spoke about film
production from an artistic and organizational perspective, starting from the moment the idea takes hold, to project development ,to shooting and all the
way to theatrical exhibition. Vero started working in 1992 as a director and head of production. In 2001 she began producing her own films. From 2007 to
2009 she was President of the Association of Independent Producers and Vice President of the Chamber of Film Producers from 2009 to 2011. She has been
involved in films such as The Headless Woman by Lucrecia Martel (Cannes Competition), The Other by Ariel Rotter
(Berlinale, 2 Silver Bears and the Jury Grand Prize), Las Acacias by Pablo Giogelli (Camera d’or, Cannes 2011), Live-in Maid by
Jorge Gaggero (Sundance Special Jury Prize), There Be Dragons by Roland Joffe, Torrente 3 by Santiago Segura, The Dead and Being Happy by Javier Rebolla, One Love by Paula Hernandez and The Game Maker by John
Paul Buscarini, among others.
Panel – Producing in Central America
The panel that reads like a Who’s Who of Central America discussed producing in Latin America. These active figures in current Central American production,
shared their experiences on film production in the region. Moderated by Pituka Ortega (IFF -Panamá), the speakers included
Pablo Schverdfinger (Argentina )
After his film studies in Argentina, in Avellaneda Film School and then at the Universidad del Cine, Pablo began working with the filming of Highlander II and from there he developed his career as director of photography . In 2010 he founded Dragon Films and began directing
commercials and documentaries for the local market in Panama. The 2012 he started Mangrove Films, a more ambitious bid to expand its services to the local
Panamanian market with prestigious directors representation opening the doors to international markets by adding the alliance with Argentina Concrete
Ileana Novas (Argentina)
Ileana Nova studied Social Communication at the Universidad del Salvador in Argentina . She worked many years in production at Flehner Films and Sorin
Cine, for many local productions and especially in the international department providing production services abroad. Post Production Coordinator : The Other ( Ariel Rotter – Silver Bear at Berlin Intl Film Festival 2007 ) , Hide ( Canadian Production of KCBascombe –
2007), The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, co-produced by France, Italy, Spain and nominated in the Cannes Film Festival 2008 ). Then ,
while working on The Acacias (Pablo Giorgelli won three awards at Cannes Film Festival 2011) , the idea arose to establish herself in
Panama . Her previous work experience in Panama in 1999 encouraged her to decide to move there in 2010 where she set up Mangrove Films.
Rafael González (Guatemala )
Rafael worked on The Wagon (TV) and The Comal House in Guatemala as a producer and screenwriter. He has been looking back
on the history of his country for the last 15 years, and he created Back to Home in which he addresses the issue of Guatemalan refugees in
Mexico. He was a sound technician and producer on the documentary La Camioneta selected for the Festival of Guadalajara 2013. Currently he
is directing and producing the documentary Flight of Azacuán , a coproduction with DOCTV Latin America.
Neto Villalobos (Costa Rica )
Neto graduated with a BA in Sociology from the University of Costa Rica and later graduated in film direction at the Centre d ‘Estudis Cinema de Catalunya
in Barcelona. His first feature film All About the Feathers was selected for the International Film Festival in Toronto and then in the International
Film Festival of San Sebastian. All About the Feathers was also at other international festivals such as Rotterdam, Miami , Buenos Aires, Toulouse,
Vancouver, Stockholm, Havana, Prague, Geneva, Kerala, Cleveland and won Best American Film and Best Director at the Icarus Film Festival of Guatemala. Neto
is working on his second feature film called Majijo
Luis Rafael Gonzalez (Santo Domingo )
With extensive experience in various branches of the film industry, founding member of the International Film Festival of Santo Domingo, Deputy Director of
Programming and Broadcasting (2004-2006) and CEO (2007-2011) of the Dominican Cinematheque, Representative of the Dominican Republic in the Congress of the
International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) , the International Federation of Film Clubs ( FICC ) and the First Latin American Congress of Culture
dedicated to Cinema and Audiovisual, Luis Rafael has also participated in developing the law on the Promotion of Film Activity in the Dominican Republic.
He won the top prize for a script at Les Films de L’ Astre, 2011 with his Gods without Twilight. He is also part of the Dominican
Film Selection Committee to select the Dominican film for Oscars and other international awards. He serves as Vice President of Acquisitions and
Distribution for Palmera International, a distributor which operates in the territories of the United States, Central America and the Caribbean.
María Lourdes Cortés (Costa Rica )
Costa Rican and Central American historian, professor at the University of Costa Rica, a researcher at the Foundation of New Latin American Cinema and
director at CINERGIA, Maria Lourdes was also director of the first School of Cinema and Television founded in Costa Rica (Universidad Veritas) and the
Costa Rican Film Production Center. She has won the Joaquín García Monge Prize in cultural diffusion and twice the Essay Prize Achilles J. Echeverría for
the books Love and Treachery, Film and Literature in Latin America (1999), and The Broken Screen. One Hundred Years of Cinema in Central America (2005). For this last book, she received the honorary award Ezequiel Martínez Estrada by the
Casa de las Americas (Cuba ) for the best essay published in that year (2005). She is currently preparing research on Gabriel García Márquez and film and
on the textual work of Silvio Rodriguez. She has been jury in film festivals in France, Holland, Cuba and Mexico where she has also given talks and
workshops. The Government of the Republic of France awarded her with the rank of Knight of the Order with the Merit of Honor (2005).
Another workshop featured Cameron Bailey, the Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most important festivals in the
world and one of the largest in North America, discussed how TIFF’s position has been achieved and the importance for the Latin American industry of
participating in this event. Cameron is also part of the School Advisory Council at the University of Western Arts and Humanities and the School of Cinema
Institute of Haiti. He lectures on programming and preservation at the University of Toronto and is also a member of the Board of Tourism Toronto and the
former co-chair of the Working Group Arts and Culture Civic Action Toronto. Former board member of the Ontario Film Development Corporation and member of
the Advisory Board of the Institute of the Royal Ontarios Museum for Contemporary Culture, in 2007 he was part of the delegation accompanying the General
Governor of Canada, Michaelle Jean on her state visit to Brazil.