Anayansi Prado, director of "Paraiso for Sale"
"Quantum of Solace" might not be considered a classic, but the filming of James Bond film in Panama created a ripple effect in the country that is still felt today. "That was our first project," admits Gabriel Padilla, the Projects Relation Manager of the Panama Film Commission. "It was one of the driving reasons why the government established the Film Commission." Six years later, in large part due to the economic push of a blockbuster studio production, Panama has made strides to bolster its film industry and provide previously unavailable opportunities to local filmmakers.
There's a blind, go-for-broke dedication present in every corner of the independent film world. What sets Panama and the rest of Central America apart is that there has been no established industry to support the careers of its residents. While there might be fewer resources, however, the passion and commitment are on par with other film industries around the world. In recent years, there has been a shared feeling that the infrastructure being put in place will give filmmakers across the region access to the necessary resources to create a self-sustaining independent film industry.
"There are no film schools in Panama," said Ana Endara Miroslav, director of the documentary "Reina." "I always wanted to make movies but I never had the chance. I had to study something else in college." Upon graduation, she applied for a loan and flew to Cuba to enroll at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV de Santiago de los Baños, the alma matter for most of the filmmakers in the region. When she returned to Panama, Miroslav found scarce opportunities in her field. Like many of her classmates, she found work directing commercials, institutional documentaries, and educational films. She had to wait until 2007, seven years after leaving film school, to complete her first documentary feature. That film, "Curundú," didn’t screen in her home country until 2012, when it was part of the inaugural IFF Panama.
I met with Miroslav and several other filmmakers at the second edition of IFF Panama, a film festival founded through a collaboration between executives from the Toronto International Film Festival and local members of Panama's film community. Screening local films isn't enough for a serious festival in Central America. The real responsibility lies in creating the appropriate channels to encourage production, distribution, and exhibition across borders. "The goal is to create a platform for Central American cinema," explains festival director Pituka Ortega. "We want the festival to build ties across the region."
Anayansi Prado studied cinema at Boston University and began her career in New York and Los Angeles. She returned to her native Panama to make her third documentary, "Paraiso for Sale," and experienced first-hand the unique difficulties that face Panamanian filmmakers. Anayansi made it clear, however, that her experience is distinctly different from those based in her country. "I made my film with American funding, so my situation doesn't compare to those working down here who really had to hustle to get their movies made."