The International Film Festival of Panama (IFF Panama) closed December 4 on a high note, with the debut documentary “Nación de Titanes” by Panamanian director Joaquín Horna Sosa winning the Audience Award, a good indication of its potential at the box office.
One of only four Panamanian features in competition, “Nación de Titanes” follows six wrestlers during the golden age of wrestling in Panama during the 1960s through the 1980s. Doc-feature star wrestlers Sandokan, Ricardo Diaz, El Greco, El Titan, Chronox II and Johnny Gonzalez as it chronicles the ups and downs of their careers and digs into the origins of the sport.
The three-day festival received encouraging news from Culture Minister Giselle Gonzalez and Panama City Vice Mayor Jody Mena, who pledged their continued support for the festival.
Pituka Ortega Heilbron, Chair of the Festival Board and Foundation, noted that the festival was operating at a fraction of its normal size and that the last three editions had been the hardest. Unfortunately, the development of IFF Panama is region-wide. Film festivals that relied on public support have seen their budgets shrink dramatically as governments divert funds to support the economies of their countries, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war.
New festival director Bernardo Ordas Guardia, who took over from Ortega Heilbronn, has vowed to make IFF Panama a hub for art and culture. “Our mission is to advance the film industry in Central America,” he said, inviting festival staff and nearly 100 volunteers to the stage to acknowledge their valuable contribution to the festival.
Other filmmakers attending the festival with their own films include Laura Mora, director of Kings of the World, winner of the 2022 San Sebastian Gold Award, and Columbia’s submission for the Oscar. Pavel Giraud, director of the docu “The Padilla Affair”; Santiago Miter and box office hit “Argentina 1985,” his country’s entry into the Oscar race. and Ariel Escalante from Costa Rica who presented IFF Panama Primera Mirada award winner “Domingo and the Mist” and the festival’s last industry panel, “Film as a Punk Exercise”.
Industry panel “Is there an audience for Latin American cinema?” Weighed the results of audience studies drawn from three sources: IFF Panama, Copa Airlines’ IFF Panama Channel and free online platform, Cinema Sanitas.
Introduced by Argentinian market consultant María Elena Provençal and featuring local producers María Isabel Burns (“Banquiaco”) and Isabella Galvez (“Barra su Tranquilidad, Haga su propio museo”) as panelists, the answer to the question was a resounding yes. Copa Airlines, the main sponsor of the festival, which since 2018 has offered a channel dedicated to curated Latin American films on its flights, noted in its results that airline audiences have a strong preference for drama, particularly from Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Chile and Brazil. “The surprising finding is that, given the body of information available, there does not appear to be a significant correlation between the decision to consume such content and a film’s international box office performance. This is good news given the meager marketing budgets of Latin American films,” the study concluded.
In turn, Cinema Sánitas and IFF Panama report that audiences are eager to see authentic, indigenous cinema with regional themes. Three of the four most-watched films of the past two years have been from Panama, among them the docu “Panquiaco,” the six-country Central American co-production “Dias de luz,” and Abner Benim’s “Plaza Catedral.”
IFF Panama ran from December 2-4.