From Variety Critic’s Pick ‘Memory’ With Jessica Chastain to a Chronicle of a 1925 Indigenous Uprising, This Year’s IFF Panama Audience Award Contenders

Running April 4-7, the IFF Panama brings to this year’s edition a rich mix of standout director driven titles from Europe, the Spanish-speaking world and beyond, spangled by highlights from Central America, including Panama: 

“Bila Burba,” (Duiren Wagua, Panama)

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Documentary. Wagua’s debut feature. The Gunadule nation’s ties with the Panamanian government were fraught with territorial and cultural disputes. In 1925, leaders Simral Colman and Nele Kantule, inspired by their warrior ancestors, joined forces to unite their communities in the ‘Dule Revolution’ against police brutality. Today, their descendants honor this legacy through street theater, transforming community streets into stages to commemorate their ancestors’ struggle.

Bila Burba
Bila Burba

“Brown,” (Ricardo Aguilar, Panama)

Penned by Aguilar’s regular collaborator, Manolito Rodríguez, the story centers on Teófilo Alfonso, also known as “Panamá Al” Brown, the first Latin American World Boxing Champion. After a fixed fight costs him his title, he retires to Paris. There, he becomes a sensation in a second-rate cabaret and catches the eye of poet Jean Cocteau, who becomes both his lover and agent. Despite being 35 and battling addiction, Brown agrees to return to boxing to reclaim his lost championship.

“Copa 71,” (Rachel Ramsay and James Erskine, U.K.)

Documentary narrated by the pioneering women who participated in the 1971 Women’s Soccer World Cup, complemented by unseen archival footage, revealed after fifty years. This is the extraordinary story of a tournament witnessed by record crowds that has been written out of sporting history… until now.

Copa 71

“Fallen Leaves,” (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, Germany)

A Cannes Jury prizewinner, the dramedy turns on two lonely people who meet by chance in Helsinki and set out to find true love. But the man’s alcoholism, lost phone numbers, and the fact that they don’t know each other’s names make their quest difficult. Life keeps throwing obstacles in their way as they search for happiness.

“God is a Woman,” (“Dios es mujer,” Andres Peyrot, Panamá, Switzerland, France)

Documentary by Swiss-Panamanian Peyrot. In 1975, Oscar-winning French director Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau documents the Kuna community in Panama, where women are revered. Living with them for a year, financial constraints force the project’s reels to be confiscated. 50 years later, the Kunas await their film, which becomes a legend. A hidden copy is found in Paris, sparking renewed excitement among the community.

“Heróico,” (David Zonana; México, Sweden)

A mystery thriller in Spanish and Náhuatl, To help pay for his sick mother’s medicine, 18-year-old Luis, who has Indigenous roots, joins the military academy. He undergoes tough training that demands obedience and erases his individuality. Taught by the cruel Sergeant Serra, Luis learns ruthless tactics, testing his loyalty to his mother and his own values.


“Io Capitano,” (“Yo Capitán,” Matteo Garrone, Italy, Belgium, France) A 2024 Best International Feature Oscar nominee. Seydou and his cousin Moussa embark on a daring journey from Dakar, Senegal, to Europe, driven by their dreams. However, reality quickly sets in as they face the treacherous challenges of the Saharan desert, the horrors of Libyan detention centers, and the life-threatening perils of the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands have perished in packed vessels, making their passage a contemporary Odyssey fraught with danger and uncertainty.

“La Hembrita,” Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cárdenas, Dominican Republic)

Dominique, whose entire sense of self revolves around her family, suddenly faces being alone when her children move out. Complicating matters further, Carmen, her trusted live-in maid, abruptly vanishes without notice, leaving behind her seven-year-old granddaughter. Despite facing resistance from her own family, Dominique chooses to take the young girl under her wing and reevaluate her priorities.

“Memories of a Burning Body,” (“Memorias de un cuerpo que arde,” Antonella Sudasassi, Spain, Costa Rica)

A Panorama Audience Award winner at Berlinale. Ana, Patricia, and Mayela grew up when talking about sexuality was frowned upon. They learned what it means to be a woman through unwritten rules and silent expectations. Now, they’re speaking openly about it. Their shared memories, secrets, and desires weave together, painting a poetic picture. As they share their stories, they bring another woman from their time to life, blending their lives into hers.

Memories of a Burning Body
Memories of a Burning Body

“Memory,” (Michel Franco, U.S., Mexico, Chile)

World premiered at Venice reaping upbeat reviews, “Memory” stars Jessica Chastain as Sylvia, a social worker with a modest routine revolving around her daughter, job, and AA meetings. Her life is upended when Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) unexpectedly follows her home from their high school reunion. Their chance meeting unlocks deep-seated emotions, reshaping their outlooks as they confront their shared history.

“Monster,” (“Kaibutsu,” Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)

From the director of the lauded “Shoplifters,” a mystery thriller that had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Festival which centers on schoolboy Minato whose behavior worries his widowed mother. Upon uncovering the teacher’s involvement, she confronts the school for answers. A “Rashomon”-inspired structure explores the shifting perspectives of mother, teacher, and child until the truth, albeit ambiguous, gradually reveals itself.


“Mountains,” (Mónica Sorelle, U.S.)

In Haitian, Spanish and English. Tale centers on Xavier, a Haitian demolition worker who lives in cramped quarters in Miami’s Little Haiti with his wife Esperance, a seamstress and school crossing guard, and their son Junior, who’s pursuing standup comedy while juggling two cultures. “Mountains” delves into immigrant family dynamics, Miami’s racial and national divides, gentrification concerns, and the American dream, offering a glimpse into the Haitian community in Miami.

“No Bears,” (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, the docu-drama begins with a simple photograph of a couple that sparks chaos in a border town in Iran. Its photographer, a renowned director filming an underground movie, is harassed by the neighbors to hand it over. The innocent request begins to turn violent, and the idea of creating images becomes increasingly dangerous.

“Perfect Days,” (Wim Wenders, Japan)

Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature this year, Wender’s latest film revolves around Hirayama, a reserved Tokyo janitor, balancing work at a public bath with his love for music, literature, and photography who hides a secret past. Unexpected encounters disrupt his serene life, unveiling hidden layers behind his calm exterior.

Perfect Days
Wim Wenders’ ‘Perfect Days’

“The Shadow of the Sun,” (“La Sombra del Sol,” Miguel Angel Ferrer, Venezuela) Ferrer’s debut feature centers on two brothers. Leo, a mediocre worker in Acarigua, Venezuela, struggles with economic hardship, barely sustaining his modest life and relationship. When his deaf younger brother, Alex, suggests entering a music contest in the capital, singing a song he wrote, they hope to win a prize to escape financial woes.

“The Sitting Duck,” (“La Syndicaliste/Blanco facil”), Jean-Paul Salomé, France, Germany)

Drama-thriller about Maureen Kearney, a union leader at a giant French nuclear company, who blew the whistle on secretive deals, challenging government and industry elites to protect thousands of jobs. But her life took a dark turn with a brutal assault at home. As the investigation unfolds, doubts surface, turning Maureen from victim to suspect in a high-stakes, sensitive case.

“They Shot the Piano Player,” (“Dispararon al pianista,” Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal, Spain, France, Netherlands)

An animation feature from Oscar-winning Trueba and celebrated illustrator Mariscal (“Chico & Rita”) join forces once more as they delve into the mystery of Francisco Tenório Júnior, a young Brazilian samba-jazz pianist who disappeared in Buenos Aires during the right-wing dictatorship of ‘70s Argentina. Jeff Goldblum voices the fictional music journalist Jeff Harris who investigates the fate of the doomed pianist-composer.

“When the Waters Flow as One,” (“Cuando las aguas se juntan,” Margarita Martínez Escallón, Colombia)

Documentary that chronicles the journey of women scarred by war yet determined to forge peace. Despite formidable challenges, they defy armed forces, fight sexual violence through legal means and confront the grip of the cocaine trade. Through unity and healing, they symbolize rivers converging to shape the Amazon, paving the way for a new politics anchored in human dignity and women’s empowerment.

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