Film Festival of Panama offers audiences the chance to vote for their favorite
The audience at the Panama Film Festival is very engaged,
interested and enthusiastic. The questions during the Q&A are unique. Not once did I hear that old chestnut, ”What
was the budget of the film?” They
care about the subject, the characters and the filmmakers themselves and often
add to-the-point personal comments rather than simply ask questions.
The multiplex Cineopolis is in the largest, most upscale mall I
have ever seen. The four screening
rooms given over to the festival all week long were frequently sold out. Lines went around the corner at the stand-alone
1,000-seat Teatro Balboa where the red carpet events were held. Built by the
Panama Canal Company in 1950 to provide entertainment to the residents of
so-called Canal Zone of Panama City (only Americans, no Panamanians), this theater
is proof that Panama’s movie culture is not old. In fact, Panama as a nation is not old. With the backing of the United States,
Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903, allowing the Panama Canal to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914. In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaty was signed for the total transfer of the
Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the 20th century, which
culminated on 31 December 31, 2000.
People here definitely have the movie going bug and they
supported the grand total of six Panamanian films in the festival, two of which
won the Audience Award, one for Best Central American Film and the other for
It is not surprising that the winner of the People’s Choice Copa Airlines Award for Best Latin American Fiction
Film was the debuting Venezuelan feature, “From Afar”/ “Desde Allá” from
Venezuelan writer-director Lorenzo Vigas.
Set in Caracas’ chaotic lower class communities. Vigas’ turbulent story
reveals the complex bond between two men worlds apart.
This Venezuelan-Mexican coproduction premiered at the Venice
Film Festival 2015 where it won the Golden Lion for Best Film. It went on to play at TIFF 2015. Celluloid Dreams has sold it extensively
to U.S. (Strand), Austria (Filmladen), Brazil (Imovision), Czech Republic (Film
Europe), Denmark (Reel Pictures), Germany (Weltkino), Greece (Seven Films),
Mexico (Canibal), Spain (Caramel), Switzerland (Filmcoopi) and Taiwan
More interesting is the fact that the two other Peoples
Choice Awards went to Panamanian films.
Choice MasterCard Award for Best Film from Central America and the
Caribbean went to the 100% Panamanian fiction feature, ”Salsipuedes”, about a young boy who is sent to the
United States to be kept away from the bad influence of his father, a
boxer. When he returns ten years
later for his beloved grandfather’s funeral, he meets his criminal father and
becomes ensnared in his troubled legacy.
was the feature directorial debut of Ricardo Aguilar Navarro and Manolito
Rodríguez and of the producer Sixta Diaz C. whom I interviewed here:
SL: What were
you doing before you made this debut feature?
Sixta: My husband Ricardo and Manolito are not
inexperienced in the audiovisual world.
Ricardo Aguilar Navarro is a Panamanian filmmaker who used to work as Production
Manager for one of the principal TV stations in Panama, MEDCOM. During that
time he also produced major events in Panama and produced the television series
un secreto” and the Teleplay ¨Marea Roja”.
Nowadays he runs the Audio Visual Department of the Panama
Canal Authority producing videos, documentaries and educational movies for different
publics and for the TV channel of the Panama Canal.
On the other side, my production expertise comes from my Industrial
Engineering background and from a diversity of projects in which I´ve
participated and sometimes led during my career at the Panama Canal. But what helped me the most to
understand what I was supposed to do as the “Salsipuedes” Executive Producer
was my experience as Electrical Supervisor at one of the Locks of the Panama Canal.
It was there where I learned to work well and quickly, under pressure, making
good use of the resources and to understand the importance of planning and
teamwork. There, I learned to work with passion and to give myself completely
to achieve the objectives. Everything I learned through my career in the Panama
Canal I put into practice with the film and at the end I am very proud of my
Manolito (Manuel Rodríguez): I am a Cuban filmmaker. I studied theater at the Instituto
Superior de Arte de la Habana (ISA) and film at the International School of
Film and Television in San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV).
I have written many screenplays. Many were coproductions with other countries.I wrote “Viva Cuba”, “Calle de la Muerte” in
Brazil, “El Ultimo Comandante” and “Panama
Canal Stories”. .Director and writer of short fiction “Ah, la
Primavera”. Best Film Award of the V Festival of Young Cinema of Havana, 1991.
-Prize best unpublished script in the XVII Festival of New Latin American
Cinema, Havana, for “Cerrado por Reformas”, 1994.
Writer of “Madagascar”, Fernando Perez. Fiction. 1994. Best Latin
American film at the Sundance Film Festival. Caligari Award Berlin
International Film Festival. Grand Prix Film Festival, Fribourg, Switzerland.
Grand Prix Film Festival Troia, Portugal. Special Jury Prize at the XVI
Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana .. Award of the Union of Film
Circles. Special Mention of the FIPRESCI and mention (ex aequo) of the OCIC.
Caracol screenwriting award from UNEAC.
Co-screenwriter ”Killing Cat”, screenwriting finalist at the
Sundance Institute, 1996.
Writer of “NADA”, feature film by Juan Carlos Cremata. 2001.
Selected for the Directors’ Fortnight, International Cannes Film Festival,
France. Nominated for Goya Award of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Spain.
Opera Prima Coral Prize (ex aequo), Film Critics Award and Award of the
Cultural Circle of the Cuban Press, in 23 Latin American Film Festival. Caracol
screenwriting award from UNEAC. Tatu Opera Prima Award Iberoamerican Film
Festival, Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Awards Vesuvius, Naples, Italy. Award Prison Key
Award, Huelva, Spain. Best Film, Festival of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“Nights of Constantinople”, feature film by Orlando Rojas. 2001
Audience Award, Latino Film Festival New York, United States.
explained that his connection with Ricardo is extremely open and good. They are
more than friends, they are brothers, like the Taviani Brothers. Their ideas
are intertwined and each of them respects the other`s decision. They imposed a
method of realization wherein Ricardo cared more about the image display and
Manolito about the performance with alternate interventions from one and other
in complete harmony.
SL: What was the
origin of “Salsipuedes”?
It started as a TV series idea when Ricardo was the
Production Manager at the TV station.
We spoke with the Panamanian actor Rubén Blades to make a tv series in
30 episodes about “Maestra Vida”, the song he is known for singing.
Time went by and then we changed the idea to a story of
three generations in the barrio which is like the one Blades also lived in and
SL: How did you
fund the film?
became a member of Ibermedia in 2007-2008 and this movie was submitted and won
the project development funds. It
was also a winner in the first contest held for funds from the newly
established Panama Film Fund.
We are very happy to be among the pioneers of the Panama
film industry and have made the movie for Panamanians to identify with as there
have never been role models in films for them previously.
Ricardo: Panama has
a theater culture. It does not have a culture of cinema. It was not easy to
find a lot of trained movie crew members in Panama, like set designers,
costumers, DPs, casting directors, etc.
But we were fortunate to find them and work with a very good crew that
did their best to make “Salsipuedes” a great movie.
SL: How did you
find your cast?
Casting was big for Panama. We looked at more than 400 people.
We used Alina Rodriguez, a Cuban actress, to assist in
casting and to coach the actors.
She worked with the children and also acted as the neighbor of the
grandfather who was played by the internationally known Panamanian actor Lucho Gotti.
Alina liked the father, Jaime Newball.
When looking for the main character Andrés, Elmis
Castillo, we hired a young actor that has been working as a tv comedian and is
just beginning his acting career.
He had the look we were seeking, not black or white, but a real
Panamanian mix. This is his first
Sixta and Alina went to some schools in the neighborhood
and found three of the boys that performed like experienced actors. Also cast
the little girl and the drummer who cried…he even cried in the audition.
Other actors were selected because we had seen them in
SL: Was this a
big production for Panama?
Casting was big.
And we shot in more than 40 locations, also a lot for
It was a five week shoot, going from 5 am to 7 or 8 pm
every day. We were lucky it did
not rain much. In pre-production
we had lots of storyboarding and planning of scenes with the DP, in order to
accomplish our plans.
SL: What about
We have distribution in Panama. The film will go out in 20 theaters.
We have been speaking with one sales agent and were
approached by another. We’ll be in Cannes screening the film for
international sales in May 17th, Gray 3 room at 12:00.
SL: What other
plans do you have for future films?
We plan to make a documentary stemming from our
involvement with the Danilo Pérez Foundation and the children this foundation
is working with. Danilo Pérez, the
Panamanian Grammy Award winning pianist is currently Artistic Director at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and founded
the Danilo Pérez Foundation’s to give young musicians opportunities and future,
and also to train youth from the impacted and underserved barrios of Panama.
His goal is that most of these musicians attend the Berklee School of Music. The
students then return to Panama and teach the next generation.
We can show you the Foundation as it is just across the
Plaza Herrera from the Festival HQ at the American Trade Hall where we are
interviewing now and where many guests were staying.
The soundtrack will be by Billy Herron of Berklee School
who wrote the score for “Salsipuedes”.
We hope this doc about children and music will be ready by
the next festival.
After that we will do a fiction feature again. Of course we have to find the money.
Until then, we will continue to work with the Panama
Canal, writing and directing for Canal TV Channel 126 an educational station.
People’s Choice Revista K Award for Best Documentary
went to ”Time to Love. A Backstage Tale”.
“Time to Love, A
Backstage Tale”/ “Es la hora de enamorarse”, a documentary directed
Bilbao, is the true story
of a group of young actors with Down Syndrome who courageously mount the
classic Panamanian play “La Cucarachita Mandinga”, without any previous
experience on stage. Many thought it unlikely that they would manage to
memorize lines, learn choreography or capture the attention of the public. The
artistic process is unveiled as Bilbao shows the intimate world of these young
aspiring actors, along with their fears, hopes, and daily struggles.
The red carpet event
was a loving and lively event and the audience applauded and laughed and even
cried while watching the film. The
pride everyone felt truly filled the room.