Home Special Guest Elmis Castillo: “Panama movie industry must be develop and make it grow….because...

Elmis Castillo: “Panama movie industry must be develop and make it grow….because it will bring more tourism.”


Panama is experiencing a resurgence of youth who have proven to be aware of the challenges facing the country and what is needed to solve them. This is the reason why our Special Guest is a young Panamanian actor and producer who has produced and starred in films like “Sancocho Presidencial” where the main focus is to show in a humorous way the political and social problems of the country. With participation in films such as “Paradise Lost” (2014), “Salsitrabajos” (2016) and “Frozen in Russia” (2018), Elmis Castillo, this young man from David in Chiriqui province, spends time with The Visitor – El Visitante to talk about how cinema can help tourism and what it feels like to be part of a youth that is changing Panama.

Elmis Castillo – Actor and Producer

What elements of Panamanian slang that you apply in your films can be applied in tourist communication?

“Of course yes, for me it is very important, I think and know that Panamanian slang should be present both in tourism and in our films and in our stories. Nowadays we see culture as an accessory, a decorative object in which we work towards it to obtain some benefit, however, films are photographs of current reality for the next generations, it is the way in which the world can see us. Argentine, Spanish, Chilean and Mexican cinema during its golden era are excellent examples of what I’m talking about, since each film had its jargon, and if you didn’t understand it, you could relate it. That is why I see it as very important to rescue our culture and exalt it, and that is what tourists come to look for, it is what a person who goes to see a movie from somewhere else is looking for. In Hollywood everything has been told, that is why there are many people who every day look for films from Central America, France, the Caribbean, among others, to understand other types of stories that have not been told. If we make a film and try to emulate what was done in another country we are going to fail because it has already been made and with a much larger budget. Our duty is to exalt our culture, tell our stories in our own way and make the world look here, just as tourism seeks to do.”

Elmis Castillo – Actor and Producer

What is the image that foreigners have of Panama and its people?

“There are two phenomena that I have seen internationally, in cinema and in people. Panamanians emigrate very little, there are people who have no concept of what a Panamanian is, more than anything they see us as Central American. People hear about Panama through the canal, Roberto Duran, Ruben Blades, but in general for the Anglo-Saxon, the Panamanian is from the Caribbean and Central America. In the countries that I have visited or that captivates them in Panama, we are a small country but huge in culture and heart, with brave people who have achieved great achievements, from achieving great sporting accolades to having great exponents of music. This is what we must achieve in cinema, with our stories and style so that people in other countries can observe the portrait of Panama through the screen.”

We understand that you went to Hollywood, in Los Angeles. What does Panama have that might interest the big studios?

“I am currently living between Los Angeles and Panama, technology allows you to work remotely, especially because I work a lot with social networks. However, Hollywood may be very interested in Panama, its beautiful locations that we have a short distance from each other, a good example is being able to be in the Pacific and in less than an hour you are in the Atlantic. What I think I could do is bring projects with the budgets from there and film it with the talent, locations and produce it from here. That would be a winning bet since the prices here are not those there and even if it is something low-budget from Hollywood, we are talking about millions of dollars. It is one of the goals I have and one of the things I would love to do, to bring projects and export our stories, our flavor, our image, and take it to those big cities.”

Elmis Castillo – Actor and Producer

During the latest events in the country, the largest and most impactful movement of people was carried out by young people. How would you describe the synopsis of this story ?

“During the last events we see many young people and I do not see a country becoming victimized. There is pain but also light, and I think that light is the large number of young people interested in national politics. There is a saying that represents us right now that says “there are centuries that it seems like nothing happens and there are weeks that it seems like everything happens.” I believe that this awakening of young people, of going to the streets that occurred through social networks and that helped people become infected with that patriotism, that straw that broke the camel’s back. There are many themes to see in this awakening of Panama. You ask me what synopsis I would make for a film from Panama? I happened to be making a movie called “Once Upon a Time in Panama” that although it does not deal with the issue of the mine directly, it deals with the problems that made people take to the streets, because it is not just because of mining, we are the 12th most unequal country in the world. We have the dance of millions of wealth in this country and we have enormous inequality. There are 500 ranch schools in the country that have not been eradicated according to the Ministry of Education. We are one of the most corrupt countries in the region, these are topics that were touched on in the film I am making. We have people in power for 35 years practically doing nothing, and I don’t see specific progress in the areas where they are. We talk a lot about democracy but I see it more in aesthetic decisions like fixing a park, buying some lights, I don’t see it in important issues. Decisions are made behind closed doors with the stroke of a pen without asking anyone. “Once Upon a Time in Panama” talks about all those issues, disappearances, people who have been there in the past and who are still in power, the health system collapsing. It is not only an issue in Panama, but in Latin America, which makes it sad how they take money away from a problem as big as cancer, and give financial aid to people who have money.

Of all the places you have filmed in Panama, which are your favorites and why?

“I have made 11 films as an actor and several series, I have not had the opportunity to film in the Interior, because as you know it is a big cost to take all the people to these places. Yes, I have been able to take small shots and sequences in various destinations in the country. I was part of a movie called “Donaire y Esplendor”, which was about carnivals and we went to a beach called El Uverito in Los Santos, a beautiful place that I didn’t know and the energy of the place was incredible. I also recorded the movie “Locos al Poder” was my first experience as an actor and producer and where I had the opportunity to record in the city of David where I was born and raised, also in parts of Dolega which is where I went to school. We filmed on those roads and ravines that mean a lot to me and that I want to return to, however, Panama has many other places that I would love to have to show on the big screen.

Elmis Castillo – Actor and Producer

How would you describe a Panamanian Christmas?

“A Panamanian-style Christmas, vernacular, worn and very pritty, would first be with the summer breeze blowing at Christmas, spending it with the family, enjoying the Christmas sauce, the food, the tamales (without raisins in my case). For me, December is a beautiful month as I fill with new energy for next year, the truth is that Christmas in Panama in a few words I think it is exciting, vibrant, colorful, it is beautiful. I have had the opportunity to experience several Decembers in other countries, one was in Russia, a country that even though everything was full of lights, the National Ballet was performing in the squares, I missed the heat, because spending Christmas with freezing temperatures, I don’t know if I’m a tropical animal or what, but the same thing happened to me in Los Angeles, it was winter, the sunsets at five in the afternoon and although I had a wonderful time because I was sharing with Panamanian people there, I always need that panamañidad, that rice with chicken that is us.

How can cinema help raise the awareness of people abroad about our country?

“I think that on a tourist level it is very convenient for Panama to make films, you know where the film begins, but you never know where it is going to end, what festival it is going to go to, what awards it will win, who is going to see it, and I create people countries more visited in the world have been sold through famous films. And I can go to New York and know where they filmed scenes from the movie “The Joker” with Joaquín Phoenix, even the house where the famous movie “Home Alone” was filmed, people visit that house to take their photo. It is something that would help Panama a lot and that makes us sell the country both touristically and commercially, because if we get people to come in the summer, I film their film here, they can take part of their investment and generate employment in Panama, we would be achieving both touristy and cinematographically at the production level, a lot. For this reason this industry must be fed and must grow…because it will bring us more tourism.”

Elmis Castillo – Actor and Producer
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