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Panama: the challenge of consolidating local productions and asserting the rights of its authors.



In the last decade, Panama has experienced significant advancements in the audiovisual sector, encompassing both television and the film industry. The turning point occurred in 2012 with the enactment of the Film Law, which established a legal framework to encourage the production and promotion of national films. This legislation introduced annual competitions with financial support, resulting in a notable increase in the production of films and documentaries.


Reality shows and megashows dominate television, constituting the majority of local productions. Two major networks, controlling the majority of television channels, lead this landscape.


"Despite efforts to persuade television network owners to invest in Panamanian series, the profitability of these productions does not reach the levels of imported programs," says film director Ricardo Aguilar to AV Creators News, President of the Association of Writers, Screenwriters, Playwrights, and Audiovisual Directors of Panama (EDAP).


Ricardo Aguilar, Panamanian Director and President of EDAP

Foreign programming, especially Turkish dramas, has gained ground on Panamanian television due to their popularity and profitability. Although attempts have been made to boost local production, the dominance of imported content persists.


Ricardo Aguilar acknowledges that the Film Law "marked a crucial milestone for the country's film industry" as "through annual competitions, 2.8 million dollars in prizes are allocated across four categories, boosting national production."


Before the film law, the frequency of Panamanian film premieres was approximately one every 4 or 5 years. However, with the support of this legislation, between 6 and 8 films, including documentaries, are now produced annually.


Panamá Al Brown (2022), directed by Ricardo Aguilar


In 2022, the film "Plaza Catedral" directed by Abner Benaim was among the 15 semi-finalists to compete for the Oscar in the Best International Film category. While it did not reach the final stage, it set a precedent in Panamanian cinema and won several awards at festivals worldwide.


"This increase in production has revitalized the Panamanian film sector, providing a platform to tell authentic stories and foster the growth of local talents," says Aguilar.


Despite these advancements, the profitability of Panamanian productions is an obstacle that requires innovative strategies to overcome. Adapting legislation to the changing needs of the sector and reviewing funds allocated for the strengthening and training of cinematic talents are essential steps to ensure sustainable growth.


"Right now, with different guilds and the Ministry of Culture, we are reviewing the regulations of that film law to adjust it because after ten years of being in effect, we realized it was good to review and improve it, and it's almost ready. It only remains to be sanctioned by the Cabinet Council of the national government," explains the President of EDAP.


Plaza Catedral (2022), de Abner Benaim

Rights of Audiovisual Authors

With the creation of the Ministry of Culture in 2019, despite the pandemic, significant progress was made regarding the rights of Panamanian audiovisual authors. "At that time, the Ministry, through the National Authors’ Rights Office, understood the importance not only of authors’ rights themselves but also of the conventions and treaties that Panama has internationally signed and tried to promote understanding, especially by users, of the need to defend the rights of authors of Panamanian works," explains Aguilar.


Then, a change of government occurred, leading to a "setback." According to Luis Romero, General Secretary of EDAP, at the 2023 Annual Assembly held by FESAAL in Santiago, Chile, "Panama's situation is paralyzed. We haven't started collecting. It's an organization that is just beginning. We have made reciprocal representation contracts with different organizations: ARGENTORES, DAC, DASC, ATN, AGADU, SOGEM, DBCA, SGAE, some are in the processing stage. The National Authors’ Rights Office, which belongs to the Ministry of Culture, has become very bureaucratic and rigorous."


The President of EDAP maintains that they have a "very clear" position as an entity defending the rights of authors but that "the Ministry of Culture does not take a position in defense of the law and international conventions and treaties that have been signed. So we are in a kind of lethargy, a pause where nothing is happening, and this government has about six months left."


In this regard, audiovisual authors are awaiting this process and for the entity to start functioning. "Both younger and more experienced authors have great expectations that it will finally happen, as it did with other sister entities, such as the Colombian one, for example," concludes Ricardo Aguilar.

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