Documentary filmmaker Anayansi Prado's "Paraiso for Sale" had its World Premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday night. This skilled and informative documentary travels to Bocas del Toro, Panama, an island that is fast becoming the top destination for American retirees and consequently, for developers. In this immigration tale, Prado examines firsthand what happens to a small community under modern day colonialism.
Documentarian Prado grew up wanting to be a TV journalist but in college found it too limiting. Prado wanted to express a subject in more detail than just a quick news report. So she switched to film, hoping to delve deeper into subjects that interested her. This was a smart move.
Prado's first documentary, "Maid in America," was three years in the making and follows three Latin American immigrant women in Los Angeles who left their own families to earn a living through housecleaning and as caretakers of other people's children. Her second film, "Children in No Man's Land" documents the current situation of 100,000 unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. each year to reunite with their families. "Paraiso For Sale," Prado's third film, also explores the issues of immigration, but in this case, it's immigration in reverse -- the effects of Americans leaving the U.S. to find a better living environment in Panama.
As an immigrant herself (Prado grew up in Panama and immigrated to America as a teenager), issues of immigration have always fascinated her. She understands the immigrants' experience, trying to fit into their new home, or how locals may or may not be accepting of a foreigner. Her subject for "Paraiso For Sale" is Bocas del Toro, a diverse, tropical island with crystal clear waters on the Caribbean side of Panama. For many it truly is a paradise. In the last five to seven years there's been a boom of Americans moving to Bocas. Prado, who wanted to make a film in her homeland, came to Panama in search of the personal stories in the face of this new colonialism.
Americans Karan and Willy fell in love with Panama and used their retirement savings to move to Bocas del Toro. After studying architectural styles of the island, they built Karan's dream house, a lovely colonial home that looks as if it had existed on the island forever. Karan and Willy are not your typical retirees, they're active in their community, and Karan even works with a charity group, BESO, which does fundraising for health and educational needs on the island.
Then there's island native, Dario, who runs a boating tour guide business and is also quite involved in community life. Dario's family has lived on the island forever. He's also caught in the developers' web when his small family island is taken over to be developed. As Dario fights this land "grab," he decides to run for Mayor, so that someone from the community will police the faceless yet powerful developers.
Prado also profiles Feliciano, an indigenous Ngobe Bugle leader who tries to organize the island's native Ngobe Bugle people to protect themselves from developers. Feliciano works for peaceful demonstrations but worries that with indigenous people continually being forced off their land, that the demonstrations may become violent.(Since the film ended, there has been violence.)
Prado is skilled in presenting the many facets of Panama's development rush. Under the Panamanian Constitution, a Panamanian who has lived and worked their land for 20 years or more is entitled to that land. Unfortunately though, the government does not seem to be recognizing the Constitution, and many locals are losing their holdings. Prado captures this debate and others in heated town council sessions. One exceptional moment is a native telling Richard Kiibler of the Six Diamond Resorts that he recently found a Florida brochure that spoke of Six Diamond Resorts building a 435 yacht launch in Bocas, even though it has not yet been approved.
It's a thorny issue for all sides. Prado is smart in profiling non-stereotypical islanders to flesh out the moving stories that are constantly evolving. Everyone wants his or her own piece of paradise, including the locals. The question "Paraiso For Sale" asks is with 150,000 people applying for Visas to move to Bocas del Toro, will there be any paradise left?
For more articles by Lori Huck, check out:Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Discusses History Repeating Itself and 'The Last Mountain'"
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- unaccompanied minors