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IFF Panama: Six Years of Fine Films

The sixth annual International Film Festival of Panama will be held from March 30 to April 5. This year’s festival features approximately sixty-five productions that have been screened at major festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, and San Sebastian, along with many other outstanding Ibero-American films.

By Roberto Quintero
Photos: EFE, Latinstock, Roberto Quintero

The best of world cinema is coming to the 2017 IFF Panama from March 30 to April 5 in the Panamanian capital. More than half of this year’s approximately sixty-five films are Latin American productions, honoring the festival’s mission to be a showcase for regional cinema in general and Central American and Caribbean stories in particular. Here are some highlights from the most outstanding films in the Ibero-American Gateway section.

Latin American Jewels

Aquarius, by Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, is the only Latin American film to have been included in this year’s official selection at the Cannes Festival. Although it didn’t win the Palme d’Or, the film was among the favorites and it was extremely well-received by both critics and the general public. Aquarius stars legendary actor Sonia Braga, whose interpretive work is one of the film’s major draws. With this role, Braga returns to Brazilian cinema, where she began her career as an actor. Braga plays Clara, a retired music critic who refuses to give up her apartment despite pressure from developers who have purchased the building and are pressuring her to leave. The 146-minute drama exposes the abuse, destitution, and misery that come from standing up to the powerful. The film garnered numerous awards at festivals in Lima, Mar del Plata, Havana, and at this year’s Fénix Ibero-American Film Awards in Mexico City. Sonia Braga won Best Actress at all four of these festivals.

Another film arriving in Panama after screening at Cannes is La larga noche de Francisco Sanctis (The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis), the debut film from young Argentine filmmakers Andrea Testa and Francisco Márquez. At the film’s official presentation in the Un Certain Regard section, festival director Thierry Fremaux praised it as “a great discovery.” It stars Diego Velázquez and was adapted from Humberto Costantini’s novel, which takes place in Buenos Aires in 1977. In the story, an unassuming employee and father who steers clear of political controversy accidentally listens in on a phone call one night and overhears that the army is searching for two people. Burdened with this information, he is uncertain whether to turn a blind eye or risk his life to save them. The film premiered at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI) in the International Competition section and won four awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

Another exploration of the theme of human dignity and man’s vulnerability in the face of power is the noteworthy El Amparo, a co-production between Venezuela and Colombia, directed by Venezuelan Rober Calzadilla and based on real events that occurred on the border between the two countries in 1988. Two men survive an armed attack in the tributaries of the Arauca River in which fourteen of their companions are killed. The army accuses them of being guerrillas and uses intimidation to attempt to remove them from the jail cell where they are being guarded by a police officer and the townspeople, all desperately trying to keep them there. The two men say they are fishermen, but the pressure to give in to the army’s story is overwhelming. El Amparo won the Audience Award at the Bogotá International Film Festival and the Biarritz Latin American Film Festival in France. At the São Paulo International Film Festival it won both Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and at the Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema it was awarded the Martin Luther King Memorial Center’s “Caminos” award.

Other memorable films in the Ibero-American Gateway section include José María Cuevas’ Bellas de noche (México); Fernando Guzzoni’s Jesús (France, Chile, Germany, and Greece); Amat Escalante’s La región salvaje (México), and the masterful Carlos Saura’s Jota (Spain).

Special Guests

The 2017 IFF Panama welcomes Cuban Jorge Perugorría, one of Latin America’s greatest actors. He began his career in the theater in 1984 and made the leap to the silver screen in the 90s, gaining global recognition with his first feature film, Fresa y Chocolate, directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío, in which he played the role of an educated, skeptical young gay man who falls in love with a heterosexual communist full of prejudices and doctrines. Since then, Perugorría has starred in forty films in Cuba and abroad, becoming the island’s most international performer. He is also a director and documentary filmmaker and recently began to indulge his passion for fine arts, earning recognition as a painter and sculptor.

Perugorría will present Kimura at the festival, a martial arts film directed by Panamanian Aldo Rey Valderrama that tells the story of Armando Carrera (Nick Romano), a former boxer with a tragic past who returns to Panama in search of his brother Alejandro (Robin Durán) and is forced back into the ring to find the redemption he’s seeking. The Cuban actor plays the antagonist, Manfredo Ferreira, a sports promoter linked to the world of drug trafficking and illegal betting.

Another special guest this year is Spanish producer Elena Manrique, known for her work on films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Torremolinos 73, The Orphanage, and Cell 211. Manrique earned a degree in Hispanic Philology and Art History from Universidad Complutense in Madrid and began working in the film department at Canal+ Spain in 1993. A few years later, she became head of Purchasing and Programming at Cinemanía (another film channel), and in 2003 she landed a job as executive producer at Telecinco Cinema. This year, Manrique will lead IFF Panama’s most important Educational and Industry Program workshop titled: “Producing is Creating: From the Idea to the Viewer.” The workshop analyzes the producer’s role as the axis of all activities –creative as well as financial– in the making of a film, from the initial conception and search for funding for the creative, technical, and financial aspects, through the marketing and sales stages. The workshop will meet for a total of ten hours over a period of three days.

This has been just a glimpse of the events available at the 2017 IFF Panama. For more information, visit www.iffpanama.org.