Moviemakers discover all that Panama offers

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Panama’s film industry is a work in progress and Hollywood is beginning to discover that this country has perfect locations, great climate and an accommodating government determined to lure them with fiscal, customs, labor incentives and special areas for the development of the film and audiovisual industry as well as, Panama’s prestigious Film Festival IFF.

This is now, but in past things were very different. In 1949 the Costa Rican, Carlos Luis Nieto shot the first fiction Panamanian medium length film called “Al calor de mi bohío” (The heat of my bohio). The movie was a melodrama about a naive peasant girl who was seduced by a ruffian. After he abandons her she enters the seedy world of prostitution. Nieto was the owner of a cinema in Santiago, Veraguas and he projected his film there.

Others tried filming documentaries and short films. Lack of funding was the main obstacle as well as the absence of an institution dedicated to the teaching of film-making. Those who wanted to pursue those careers had to go abroad and stayed abroad, because there were no suitable jobs in Panama.

IFF Director Pituka Ortega Heilbron.

IFF Director Pituka Ortega Heilbron.

The progression of the burgeoning film industry was painfully slow over the next decades until 1967 when a group of film lovers, university students and the cinematographer Ariel Mora created the Cine Club Ariel which organized the first film festival in 1969. Then in 1972 the University Experimental Cinema Group (GECU for its initials in Spanish) was created. More short films, documentaries and films were made during the next 40 years and other film festivals were organized.

The next generation of cinematographers was trained in Cuba, Argentina and the United States, but they still needed the support of the government. The Law 36 of July 19 2007 was created for the purpose of making Panama into the film hub of the region. In the meantime, Hollywood discovered the charms of the country, with great locations and amiable people, consequently more foreign films began to be shot here.

The Ministry of Commerce (MICI) Film Commission Director, Arianne Benedetti said that since the law was implemented Panama has managed to attract 17 foreign productions that have generated $18 million for the country.

A film contest sponsored by MICI with a fund of $3 million will finance three documentaries and three fiction films. The lucky winners are going to be announced during the Panama International Film Festival which starts on Thursday 11 to Wednesday April 17. Distinguished special guests will include Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine and the Spanish actress, Maribel Verdú, who won fame for her role in the movie “Y tu mamá también.”

There are also several companies interested in opening a film equipment rental company and others who want to open a film studio here. Different universities have plans to create film-related careers in the near future. Everything looks bright for the local filming talent and maybe, just maybe, Panama may be able to become the film hub of the Americas. Only time will tell.

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