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Panama’s film festival began in 2012 under the direction of its founder, Henk Van der Kolk. This year IFFPanama was under Panamanian control, and called the “younger cousin” of the Toronto International Film Festival that he founded decades ago. Henk decided to take an senior advisory role on the festival board instead of co-directing it earlier this year with co-founder and Panamanian filmmaker Pituka Ortega Heilbron who this year carried the torch. He hopes to continue to have an ongoing role in the growth of the Panamanian film industry and education which he expects to be a direct consequence of the establishment of the festival.
“Now it is Panama’s time to shine,” says Van der Kolk. Founding successful film festivals appears to be his unintended life’s work. In 1976 when he was a struggling film producer recently emigrated from Holland, he co-founded the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to help assert Canada’s independence from Hollywood domination, an event that today rivals Cannes as the leading annual gathering in the industry.
“When we began TIFF, Hollywood really turned up its nose at Canadian cinema. Hollywood all but boycotted us in the first year because they considered us upstarts. However, its press showed up because we had befriended them all in our visits to the Cannes film festival,” said Van der Kolk. The following year Hollywood did show up, due to word from the press that they had missed something big that first year.
Annually TIFF generates some $200 million in economic impact for Toronto and the Province of Ontario, and the film industry in Canada has become so strong that it is nicknamed ‘Hollywood North,’ a result directly correlated with the vision of the festival founders. Henk’s hope is that IFFPanama will have a relatively similar impact on his newly adopted country.
Already the fruits of having a large-scale film festival in Panama can be seen. The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed the launching of a film industry on the isthmus.
The government is spurring along the process as well, having passed new legislation to incentivize Panamanian filmmaking by big international players and national cinematographers too.
It appears that the lineup of productions are setting the stage for a cinematographic diffusion of what our country is all about. With worldwide attention geared to turn toward the isthmus as the widened Panama Canal is inaugurated in 2015, producers are betting on Panama not only as a perfect place for its logistical, diversity and economic attributes, but as a subject matter in and of itself.
Three major productions rolling here this year are focused on Panamanian themes. They are “Hands of Stone” about the life of world-famous Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán, “Paradise Lost” about the dismantling of the Medellin-based drug cartel run by Pablo Escobar and a 3-D IMAX movie about the trans-isthmian route since its discovery by Spanish conquistadores all the way up to its ocean-to-ocean service to the world today.