Viernes, May 10, 2013
About: Panama has an identity crisis. For a century its fortunes have been inextricably linked to the canal, whose billion-dollar revenue bypasses the third of the population living below the poverty line; it still uses the US dollar, a remnant of the years when its neighbour virtually ran the place; the capital's skyline is dominated by a forest of half-empty skyscrapers, owned by foreign speculators. By all accounts the city is culturally bereft. Although Panamanians are avid filmgoers, their diet consists entirely of Hollywood films.
This has changed with the arrival of the International Film Festival of Panama, which last month concluded its successful second edition. The festival's chief aim is to introduce audiences to the best of world cinema, with an emphasis on Latin American films. With 17,000 tickets sold this year, and another 5,000 people attending free outdoor screenings, there's clearly an appetite for something new.
Surprisingly, it was the brainchild of a Dutchman, Henk van der Kolk, co-founder of the mighty Toronto Film Festival, who has a home in the city. But today it's led by an engaging and savvy local filmmaker, Pituka Ortega Heilbron, and her artistic director Diana Sanchez, who is Toronto's respected Ibero-American cinema programmer.
With 70 films over one week, Sanchez's programme this year was a perfect primer for her audience. Red carpet screenings in the colonial old town's National Theatre included films by Latin masters – Chilean Pablo Larrain's No, and Argentine Pablo Trapero's White Elephant; a lively comedy thriller from Paraguay, 7 Boxes; the wondrous silent movie Blancanieves, from Spain; and, most significantly, the world premiere of a Panamanian documentary, Majesty, which looks at the country's disturbing obsession with beauty queens.
The Majesty event was supported by beauty queens from the film parading for the cameras, although vying for the headlines was local hero Ruben Blades – salsa singer, actor and former minister of tourism – who dropped by to show one of his own performances, in HBO drama Dead Man Out.
Across town, in the Cinépolis multiplex, dramas from Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia played alongside the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster. A highlight at the open air screenings – in a park with a charming view over the Bay of Panama – was the Spanish comedy Ghost Graduation, an inspired meeting of The Breakfast Club and The Sixth Sense.
Panama doesn't have a great history of filmmaking, with one feature-length fiction in 60 years. But its film community is growing – four local directors had documentaries here, all dealing with hard truths about their society. The government has duly backed the festival, to the tune of $1.2 million, recognising it as the perfect launch pad for the country's, possibly the region's fledging film-makers.