The International Film Festival of Panama offers audiences the chance to vote for their favorite films.
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 Best Documentary.
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 (Cineplex).
More interesting is the fact that the two other Peoples Choice Awards went to Panamanian films.
The People's 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.
This 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 “Vivimos 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 contribution.
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.
Read more about “Panama Canal Stories”.
Manolito 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 sings about.
Sl: How did you fund the film?
Sixta: Panama 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 important role.
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 roles before.
Sl: Was this a big production for Panama?
Casting was big.
And we shot in more than 40 locations, also a lot for Panama.
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 distribution?
We have distribution in Panama. The film will go out in 20 theaters.
Sl: And international sales?
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 by Guido 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.
Iff Panama 2016 Winners People’s Choice: Interview with the Makers of “Salsipuedes”
The International Film Festival of Panama offers audiences the chance to vote for their favorite films.