The Panama Canal is about to double in size and the implications are just beginning to dawn on the small but crucial country. This documentary lingers over the waterway, the country, and the changing world, breathtaking and slow as a passage from sea to sea.
The film is so beautiful I wondered if you were tempted to make it a kind of photographic essay without much spoken commentary.
I feel the film is broken into three parts: one, as cinematic portraiture; two, as character study; and three, as an academic roundtable platform. I felt that, without any of these elements, the film would ultimately be leaving out the critical voices to an important subject, and would in the end, be discredited. After my first trip down to Panama, when a lot of the portraitures were done, I felt I owed too much to the people I met along the way to not have their stories a crucial part of the film.
Was it a long process making the film and did you run into any objections?
The making was most definitely a long process, and, as most documentaries will, fought obstacles along its path to creation. Upon returning from our initial trip to Panama, I realized that there was a really important story there, yet the funding we secured had pretty much run out. There were a lot of very colorful hostels stayed at, near death robberies that we found ourselves the subject of, and being an international film, countless bureaucratic holdups and red tape. One of my more memorable experiences was, of course, the Dengue fever. My assistant director and I were both hospitalized, and told that if we got the same strand of Dengue again we could die.
The pace of the film is slow, almost elegiac — as if you are already mourning what was lost. Do you have much hope that things will improve in Panama after the new canal opens?
To me, life can feel like a dream a lot of times. We have moments where we “wake-up,” when we blow out birthday candles every couple of years, and say to ourselves, wow, time really doesn’t wait for me. I feel globalization works in the same kind of way. It won’t wait for you. It’s moving full steam ahead, and while the benefits of development can’t be argued with, in some ways its process and the speed at which it moves at can be reckless. Long-term effects aren’t necessarily put into consideration when short-term growth is discussed. I’m not trying to villianize. Nothing is black and white. And I thought that what was so unique about this situation in Panama, is that everyone I spoke to had their truth and motivation to see the world the way they did.
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