Home Entertainment Indigenous Documentary ‘Bila Burba’ Triumphs at the 12th Panama International Film Festival

Indigenous Documentary ‘Bila Burba’ Triumphs at the 12th Panama International Film Festival

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With John Travolta, Gregory Nava and a host of other luminaries lighting it up, the 12th Panama International Film Festival wrapped Sunday on a high note, with general attendance exceeding expectations.

Speaking at the closing ceremony held at the Canal Museum, Pituka Ortega-Heilbron, IFF Panama Board President, hailed this latest edition as a vibrant rebirth for the festival.

“We were hit by the phenomenon of the pandemic, and we certainly don’t want to complain or victimize ourselves because to fight is synonymous with living, but this festival has fought tirelessly for the last four years to thrive.”

“There’s still much ground to cover. We must work together – government, community groups, and businesses – to understand how important cultural and creative industries are for our country’s economy and society to grow,” declared Culture Minister Giselle González Villarué, who later told Variety that a delayed feasibility study that would explore the creation of a major studio facility in Panama was underway. As the general elections scheduled for May 5 draw near, there is a sense of uncertainty prevailing within the country’s creative industries, which depend on some state support. “Let’s hope the next administration will back the festival as much as we have… you have my support today, tomorrow and forever,” she pledged.

Winners Ana Endara, Duiren Wagua and Pilar Moreno

The ceremony was capped with the announcement of the two winners in the festival’s Su Mirada section, which honors women filmmakers, and the Copa Airline Audience Award going to “Bila Burba,” the debut feature documentary of Panamanian Indigenous filmmaker Duiren Wagua.

The documentary played to a packed screening, beating a strong list of contenders that included Michel Franco’s “Memory, Italy’s “Io Capitano,” Japan’s “Monster” and Aki Kaurismäki’s “Fallen Leaves.”  

A stunned Wagua said: “I am deeply grateful for this Audience Award. It’s incredibly moving to know that not only I, but my entire community, my people, and the Guna Dule nation, are being seen. Our stories are reaching all of Panama, and we hope to transcend borders as well.”

“This award is important because it brings visibility to our social struggle that took place in 1925, which is about to celebrate its centenary, and it inspires current social, political, and cultural struggles,” he said of his doc that follows the annual live street reenactments of the “Dule Revolution” where native communities fought back against police forces.

John Travolta’s presentation of his musical romcom classic, “Grease” drew unprecedented crowds while U.S.-Mexican director Gregory Nava regaled audiences with anecdotes about the making of his Oscar-nominated 1983 drama, “El Norte” that centers on a subject matter that remains as relevant today, if not more so: people escaping political persecution and economic hardship. He revealed that his movie, about a Guatemalan brother and sister fleeing to the U.S. after a massacre at their Indigenous community, is still banned in Guatemala where he received death threats on his last visit.

Speaking about the festival’s various activities, ranging from its Industry Day to the free screenings at the Mirador del Pacífico, new festival director Karla Quintero remarked: “I’m thrilled because I had an exceptional team of employees, volunteers, and everyone engaged in the project who provided me with the confidence and help to ensure that every detail seamlessly came together.”

Spanish-born Panamanian resident Pilar Moreno (“For Your Peace of Mind, Make Your Own Museum”) trumped 13 other contenders for the Su Mirada Development award with her docu-fiction project “The Sparkling Girl and Other Protests” (“La Chica destellante y otras protestas”) which includes a $5,000 award. The hybrid feature focuses on the members of La Perseverancia, a mutual support group for people with mental disorders who create their own artistic representations of madness, a topic often stigmatized and shunned by society.

“Mental health is a topic I believe we don’t discuss enough, yet it’s fundamental and affects us all,” said Moreno, a trained psychiatrist. “This award is significant because the jury has deemed it a worthwhile film to make and has recognized the urgency and relevance of both the film and its subject matter. The boost from IFF’s Su Mirada fund will be a great help in starting our search for resources to make the film,” she told Variety.

Ana Endara (“Reinas”) took home the Su Mirada Post-Production award for her poignant drama “Querido Trópico,” starring Chile’s Paulina Garcia (“Gloria”), which comes with a $10,000 cash prize. “Receiving an award like this just a week after completing the film’s final edit is an incredible boost. It’s like finding someone who says, ‘I believe in you’ at a moment of great vulnerability, such as the birth of a film. And for me, as this is my first fiction project, it’s even more significant,” said Endara, who has made four documentaries.

“Querido Trópico” centers on a wealthy woman (played by Garcia) with early-onset dementia and her initially testy relationship with her caregiver, a pregnant and lonely immigrant, with problems of her own. Commenting on Garcia’s career-best performance, Endara told Variety: “I felt so supported by her in the shoot, it was such a great experience that I’m already preparing another film with her, ‘Victoria en los nubes,’ set along the Panama-Costa Rica border.”  

The 12th IFF Panama ran April 4-7.