The Movies Come to La Villa

For the third straight year, the INDICRI Foundation is organizing an audiovisual camp in La Villa de Los Santos (Panama) to further filmmaking education for Ibero-American youngsters and help conserve the tangible and intangible heritage of the region.

By: Ana Teresa Benjamín
Photos:, Rolando Silva y Abel Aronátegui

Irina Mix is very familiar with certain pleasures of life; she knows, for example, that there is no more entertaining experience than listening to the tales of older folk, that the best bread was baked by a neighbor—Tita, was that her name?—and that any old avocado or mango tree can reveal the life of a town and its inhabitants.

“What we’re trying to do is rescue our heritage,” says the film producer and creator of cultural projects during a phone conversation, referring to the third year of the Camp and International Documentary Film Festival (AcampaDOC). “We’re trying to preserve that fragile heritage,” she adds.

AcampaDOC is an annual program run by the INDICRI (Creative Industries through Research) Foundation. The goal is to offer full scholarships to young people who wish to further their education in filmmaking by making documentary shorts on a shared topic. For example, in 2012, when the camp was first held, the focus was on heritage and society; last year, the focus was on gastronomic heritage; and this year, the event focuses on the importance of water sources for the communities and peoples of La Villa de Los Santos.

The historic town of Los Santos has been the site for the camp for all three years because, according to Mix, the “tourism and real estate boom has begun to erode the area’s heritage and the only way to rescue it is by showing it.”

La Villa—and the province of Los Santos in general—has a special charm. Visitors can peer into entrances and see women weaving the Los Santos version of the pollera (national dress) or enjoy the cheerful and encouraging work songs sung by men as they labor in the fields. The throb of drums and the unique smell of corn fritters penetrate every corner of town.

“We decided to hold the event in La Villa, because this town, along with Parita and Natá de los Caballeros, are the three principal settlements founded by the Spaniards on the mainland during the Colonial era.” The ultimate and not-so-secret goal of the camp is to see these towns become cultural heritage sites.

For this year’s event, the organizers of AcampaDOC received 140 applications from interested Ibero-American youths. Twenty-seven finalists were selected, twenty of whom will take part in the camp, where stories will be developed around the concept of “Memories of the River Basin.” The other seven finalists will participate in a specialized residence program for feature-length projects on a topic of their choice.

“Many people were doubtful about the topic, because they said that nothing happens in the river basin,” says Mix, referring to the La Villa River and its tributaries, which is unlike the various rivers of the province of Chiriquí, for example, where large hydroelectric projects have changed the landscape. “But we want to look beyond pollution, toward the intangible aspects of the cultures and customs that develop around water sources, and how people relate to the rivers that give them life and sustenance.”

The young people chosen for the camp and the residence program come from Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Panama, and Perú. Everyone will lodge in the homes of local families, because the project also emphasizes the importance of living together and learning about different cultures.

During the camp, the students will participate in specialized workshops on documentary cinema, and in the evenings documentaries from around the world will vie for audience approval.

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