A truncated Panama Int’l Film Festival (IFF Panama) wrapped Dec. 4 on a high note, with the debut doc-feature “Nación de Titanes” by Panamanian Joaquín Horna Sosa snagging the Audience Award, a good indication of its box office potential.

One of only four Panamanian features in competition, “Nación de Titanes” follows six wrestlers during Panama’s golden age of wrestling during the ‘60s through the ‘80s. Doc-feature stars wrestlers Sandokan, Ricardo Díaz, El Greco, El Titán, Cronox II and Johnny González as it chronicles the ups and downs of their respective careers and digs into the origins of the sport.

The three-day festival had encouraging news from Culture Minister Giselle Gonzalez and Panama City Deputy Mayor Judy Meana who both 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 most difficult. Sadly, IFF Panama’s situation is region-wide. Film festivals that depended on public support have seen their budgets shrink dramatically as governments have diverted funds to shoring up their countries’ economies, impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war.

New festival director Bernardo Ordás Guardia, who took over from Ortega Heilbron, vowed to make IFF Panama an epicenter of art and culture. “Our mission is to drive Central America’s film industry,” he said, inviting the festival’s staff and nearly 100 volunteers to the stage to acknowledge their invaluable contribution to the fest.

Other filmmakers attending the festival with their respective films included Laura Mora, director of “The Kings of the World,” winner of the 2022 San Sebastian Golden Shell and Colombia’s Oscar submission; Pavel Giroud, director of docu “The Padilla Affair”; Santiago Mitre and his Argentine box office hit “Argentina 1985,” his country’s entry to the Oscars race; and Costa Rica’s Ariel Escalante who presented his IFF Panama Primera Mirada winner “Domingo and the Mist” and the last industry panel of the fest, “Film as a Punk Exercise.”

Industry panel “Is There an Audience for Latin American Cinema?” weighed the results of the audience studies drawn from three sources: IFF Panama, Copa Airlines’ IFF Panama channel and free online platform, Cinema Sanitas.

Presented by Argentine market consultant María Elena Provensal and featuring local producers María Isabel Burnes (“Panquiaco”) and Isabella Galvez (“Para su tranquilidad, haga su propio museo”) as panelists, the answer to the question was a resounding yes. Main festival sponsor Copa Airlines, which has offered, since 2018, a dedicated channel of curated Latin American films on its flights, noted in its findings that airline audiences had a strong preference for dramas, particularly from Argentina, Dominican Republic, Panama, Chile and Brazil. “A striking result is that for the set of information available, there does not seem to be a relevant correlation between the decision to consume this content and the film’s international box office performance. This is good news given the sparse marketing budgets of Latin American films,” the study concluded.  

In turn, Cinema Sánitas and IFF Panama reported that audiences were keen to view original, authentic cinema with regional themes. Three of the four most viewed films in the past two years were Panamanian, among them docu “Panquiaco,” six-country Central American co-production “Dias de luz” and Abner Benaim’s “Plaza Catedral.”

IFF Panama ran Dec. 2- 4. 

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