15, Number 19
Carnival politics and cultural underdevelopment
The Panamanian film premiere that wasn't
by Eric Jackson
Jorge Ameer, a Panamanian who does low-budget indie films out of Los Angeles, doesn't have much luck with events in Panama. A few years back he was going to put on a film festival at the Balboa Theater, but says that at the last minute the folks at INAC demanded that he come up with extra cash to refurbish the theater, so the thing was moved out to Isla Contadora for the foreign visitors and hardly any Panamanians attended. Now he has had the January 7 Panama premiere of his film Sabor Tropical canceled.
This reporter saw a video version with some scenes that weren't in the edition to be shown in Panama, which would make the movie highly offensive to certain people and more attractive to certain others.
This is a tale set at Carnival in Las Tablas --- although as a cinema verite travel documentary it takes a long time to get there. British actor Matthew Leitch plays a selfish, clueless, hedonistic, exhibitionist American reporter who figures that, having had a girlfriend who'd gotten sick of his routine and walked out on him, he'll go to Panama for some wild excesses at Carnival, taking Ameer along as his one-man video crew.
That hot Colombian chick he hooks up with in Las Tablas turns out to be a female impersonator and a thief, and things get ugly and violent in short order. (Well, maybe not in short order --- the film is pretty long, and the thing gets truly violent only at the end.) Yep. Mocking a macho stud's self-image is a good way to arrange things so that someone gets hurt. But then, seeing someone get hurt, and seeing Leitch's naked body, would be major attractions to some audience segments.
Meanwhile, Ameer had made a deal with the Calle Abajo of Las Tablas, wherein they let him shoot his film with their 2009 festivities as a backdrop, and they'd get the proceeds from the premiere. But then that Carnival was over and the Calle Abajo had their annual elections and the new folks didn't want to recognize the old deal.
Was it one of these tawdry "no se puede" shakedowns? At a glance that's what one would expect, but then when push comes to shove, certain sorts of Panamanians find out to their detriment that no, all gringos are not millionaires and no, everyone who works in the LA film industry can't afford to be shaken down.
In any case, no new deal was reached with the 2010 Calle Abajo organization, which, according to Ameer, called the theater and threatened legal action if the premiere was held. The thing got canceled. If you want to see Sabor Tropical, you have to order it from Amazon.
The Calle Abajo version of the story is that the organization held a private screening and decided that the image that the film projected was not the image that they cared to promote, so they took action to suppress the film's showing. As in these wannabes, in classic rabiblanco style, believe that creative people exist to make the rich and pompous look how the rich and pompous want to look. It's a version of the whining we heard from educated people who ought to have known better about The Tailor of Panama, which they condemned for not accurately portraying Panama. (A fictional satirical novel, adapted for the screen, isn't a true account? The horror, the horror!) It's a version of the incessant lawsuits and criminal charges that Panamanian journalists get for daring to report the truth.
Sabor Tropical is not the film that will make Panama's tourism industry take off in a big way. However, what happened to the local premiere and the attitudes behind what happened will be noticed by the world film industry, which will take it as one more reason to stay away from this country.
And by the way, let me say as a journalist, in defense of fellow journalists, that the Carnivals in Las Tablas may be wonderful big parties, but over the years a number of my colleagues have been robbed or pickpocketed, and in particular have had their cameras stolen, by the criminal gangs that work those crowds. There may be things about which people may justifiably complain in Sabor Tropical, but the acknowledgment of petty crime and a certain amount of violence at Carnival are not among them.
Also inthis section:
Tankless Water Heaters ---
2010 by Eric Jackson
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