Panama’s film industry is growing and is the largest in Central America. Panama’s entry into this year’s Oscar competition for Best Foreign Film is “Invasion of Panama” by Abner Benaim, an up and coming Panama film maker.”Invasion of Panama” has opened in movie theaters across Panama and marks 25 years since the US invaded and captured Manuel Noriega, who now sits in the Renacer Prison beside the Panama Canal.
The film, which won the audience awards at this year’s Panama International Film Festival as the “Best Documentary” and “Best Film in Central America and the Caribbean”, shares the experiences of many Panamanians who lived through the 1989 events still fresh in their memories, but largely unknown to younger generations.. “The film is an exercise in historical memory, I wanted to explore, the invasion as remembered by characters who were deeply impacted by the invasion, from politicians, members of the extinct Defense Forces, Civil Society, and from ordinary people, to celebrities like Ruben Blades, Roberto Duran, and General Noriega “- said Benaim, who directed of the “Chance” comedy movie released in 2010 with a record attendance at local theaters.
The U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 is unprecedented in the history of the country, that has not previously been addressed in-depth says a press release. In the 25 years since the events, this is the first documentary film by a Panamanian about it. The film will be particularly shocking to those who lived in Panama since 1989 as it collects testimonies that have not previously been made public
On the night of December 20, 1989 the United States invaded the once peaceful Republic of Panama. U.S. President George Bush made it clear he wanted General Noriega, a former CIA ally out of power.
The Panama Canal, a strategic point for the U.S., seemed to be in danger. For two weeks Panama became a testing ground for new weapons of the U.S. Army. Noriega surrendered and was convicted in the United States for drug trafficking and later in for other crimes. He spent 24 years in prison.
Discussion of the invasion. described by some commentators as “genocidal” and aided and abetted by some local citizens like Bosco Vallarino who were described as “traitors” was shelved for various reasons. The ruling party had to live with the guilt and shame of being put in power by the U.S., and the cost in lives of Panamanian civilians had been high. The government that followed the invasion consisted of people who were part of the political arm of Noriega so they preferred silence. Most of the common people of Panama seemed to think there was no need to remember so much tragedy, loss and violence. The horrible images seemed hit the self-perception of atropical paradise where nothing bad ever happens.
But the invasion was still very present in the minds of those who experienced it. The documentary seeks to capture the memories of the people who lived through it and to bring together the collective memory. The narrative of the documentary focuses on characters whose lives were deeply shaken by the invasion; civilians who suffered attacks Panamanian defense corps who fought isolated, symbolic battles, paramilitary personnel who wanted to fight but could not, politicians justifying their actions, church figures who played the roles of negotiators between Noriega and the U.S., to those who participated in the looting that followed.