Lured from Canada by the tropical climate and beauty of Panama, Henk and Yanka Van der Kolk arrived in this country on November 1, 2010 to explore a potential move here. Since Henk is one of the founders of the phenomenally successful Toronto International Film Festival, he decided to explore the possibility of starting a film festival in Panama. He concluded that several of the elements for success such as the easy proximity to major film centres in both North and South America, and Panama City as the hub for much of the air traffic between them, along with a brilliantly beautiful countryside and a government interested in developing a film industry, were already in place.
He also found an enthusiastic core of talented people who were ready to help get the project of the ground. Thanks to Pituka Heilbron, Yasser Williams, Rob Brown, Rainer Tunion, Leroy Sheffer, Aram Cisneros, as well as Yanka and Yolanda Van der Kolk as accomplices in the ambitious project, and with the encouragement from Abner Benaim and Luis Pecheco from the film community, introductions were made to the Minister of Tourism (ATP), Salo Shamah, and the Minister of Commerce and Industry (MICI), Roberto Henriquez, and the Directors of the Panama Film Commission, Laura Emerick, and the National Institute of Culture, Maria Eugenia Herrera, who gave us unanimous expressions of support.
It only needed an unprecedentedly generous sponsorship commitment from The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, under Minister Ricardo Quijano for the International Film Festival of Panama, under the direction of Henk Van der Kolk and his Co-Director, Pituka Heilbron, to be launched. It did so by introducing itself to the world at the recent TIFF festival in Toronto where, incidentally, IFF Panama’s Artistic Director, Diana Sanchez, has been in charge of the Latin programme for some years.