“Studying cinema is to reflect. It is said that an auteur film is the X-ray of its creator’s mind”, Jorge Martínez, Coordinator of the School of Audiovisual Arts  at Ganexa University.

The film industry in Panama has experienced a revolution like no other: local audiovisual productions are now featured in film festivals around the world and many international producers visit the Isthmus in search of locations for their productions[1].

Jorge Martínez, Coordinator of the School of Audiovisual Arts at Ganexa University points out that “throughout history, Panamanian cinema fought against many factors to be note-worthy. The high costs of equipment, copies and film material for such a small market, were not very viable. ” Despite the difficulties, the industry was resilient and has seen high quality productions in recent decades.

A quick look at the industry’s history

The first notable period of the country’s film industry began with a classic period of melodramas, from which we have titles such as “Al calor de mi bohío” (1946) by Carlos Luís Nieto and “Cuando muere la ilusión” (1949) by Rosendo Ochoa and Carlos Ruiz. After a decade of more conventional productions, modernity ventured into the seventies with the Cine Ariel Group, the short films by Carlos Montúfar and the documentaries of Grupo Experimental de Cine Universitario.

However, it was the technological revolution of the VHS to digital cinema that brought with it a reduction in production and distribution costs that made film creation more viable in the country and, since then, the industry has gone through an unprecedented evolution: during the eighties with the dawn of the music video; in the nineties, women were first screened in cinema and, in the new millennium, the first guilds emerged and foreign productions being filmed in our territory increased.

Currently, in the middle of the postmodern era, Panamanian cinema already reaches the highest standards, as confirmed by the premiere in 2008 of films like “El viento y el Agua”, produced by the Igar Yala Collective, or “Chance” by Abner Benaim.

[1] The evolution of movies in Panama, Marujolia Pujol, (2019).

The Law of cinema: a turning point for the industry

All of the above led to the approval, in 2012, of an expected Film Law that included support and incentives for the development of national cinematography. This Law promoted initiatives such as the creation of a film fund and the International Film Festival of Panama (IFF), a “platform that has given voice, exposure and opportunities to national filmmakers” highlights Pituka Ortega, the IFF’s General Director.

In this context, it was necessary to create a training program that would provide creative human capital to an industry that has been taking firm steps towards its professionalization. In response to this need, the Universidad del Arte Ganexa (Ganexa Arts University) will offer this year a Degree in Cinematographic Arts, an academic program framed within the new School of Audiovisual Arts of the University, which seeks to train new audiovisual directors (filmmakers and animators) as well as creative, technical and executive professionals, capable of performing with their own artistic style.

The idea for this academic degree was forged three years ago as a result of diagnostic studies prepared by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which identified the need to establish a film school in Panama. The program represents a door that opens to show the world a bit of our view of the world: “Panama is a country with a great wealth of stories and worldviews, an input to create a unique film identity,” comments Jorge Martínez.

Ganexa has been promoting initiatives like this for over ten years. In 2011, it was part of the dialogue table for Law 16 of 2012, which is to promote the industry nationwide, as well as the conservation of Panamanian audiovisual heritage and stimulate the culture of cinema among the inhabitants of the country. During the last few years, the University has experimented with the distribution of Panamanian films to evaluate the viability of these audiovisual projects: “we have shown that economic retribution in the cinematographic art of our country is totally possible, although it can be a risky endeavor that requires a lot of creativity in the stories, as well as professionalism in the business “, highlights Martinez.

The development of the academic program for the Degree in as Arts was influenced by the curricular structure of several Argentinian universities, however, it responds to the needs of the Panamanian industry. “We have obtained good comments from the institutions with which we have shared our curriculum … This can only be due to the credibility provided by a comprehensive quality academic program, which has the institutional solidity of an accredited university” comments Jorge Martínez.

This initiative seeks to be a catalyst for the country’s creative economy, in addition to turning Panama into an international academic center of audiovisual arts which fosters high-level professionals. The Film Direction of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (DICINE) and the City of Knowledge Foundation (FCdS) have joined Ganexa to promote this initiative. DICINE’ support includes the sponsorship of the Rene Martinez Scholarship, through every year, a winner obtains funding for the full academic program. As for the Foundation, in addition to enabling the space where the headquarters will be located, the City of Knowledge will include the program within its Cluster of Creative Industries.

In this regard, Jorge comments that “cinema is an enhancer of the creative industries, a synergic component that involves multiple cultural industries … This program will have a direct effect on the quality of our productions, as better stories will be born. It is one thing to study cinema abroad, and another to study it here, discovering your film identity, in your country, together with the heritage, the people and the landscapes “.

The program is expected to have great cultural impact in the country, as well as in the image it projects abroad. According to Pituka Ortega “one of the main challenges (and that of all the cinematography of the different countries), is that our cinema transcends its borders and generate interest in other latitudes”.

To achieve this, it is important to continue to count on the support of the public sector, which is also a key factor in promoting these initiatives. “We hope that the new administration will continue the support that the government has been given to the industry so far. The investment made in the cinema is one of the most intelligent and well-regarded decisions at a local and international level, “says Pituka.

This year, a new chapter in Panama’s history of cinema begins, because for the first time, Panamanians and foreigners will have access to an academic program that will boost their audiovisual projects and turn them into storytellers.

As the famous film director Francis Ford Coppola once said: “… film, movies and magic have always been closely associated” and Panama now seems to have all the elements that will allow it to shine on the world’s screens.-

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