‘Exiled’ Producer Juli Films Boards ‘Pantasma,’ a Stop Motion Doc Feature on the Sandinista-Contra Bloodbath (EXCLUSIVE)

LOCARNO — Costa Rica’s Juli Films has boarded Nicaraguan Gloria Carrión’s “Pantasma,” building production partner backing for one of the most ambitious titles at a talent packed Locarno’s Open Doors Projects Hub.

A stop motion doc-feature, the film will narrate how the Sandinista-Contra War of 1982-1989 in Nicaragua forced Félix, a 17-year-old revolutionary, to become an adult in the battlefield, 

“Pantasma” is now set up at Costa Rica’s Caja de Luz, Carrión’s label, and Juli Films, whose credits also take in documentaries “Songs from Bosawas” (2014) and “Patrol” (Mountainfilm Festival, 2023). “Exiled” screened at Hot Docs in 2019. 

Cine CA co-produces Pnatasma,” which is produced by Leonor Zuñiga, a field producer on “Las Sandanistas,” a 2018 SXSW title and São Paulo New Directors winner. Zuñiga, at CaLe Producciones, and Carrión have now founded their joint production company, Centroamericana, “to promote the female and Central American gaze” for local and global audiences.

Honduras’ Servio Tulio Mateo – who produced the Honduras part of “Days of Light,” Honduras’ 2021 Oscars entry co-directed by Carrión – serves as a co-producer on “Pantasma.” 

Now being written by Carrión and Zuñiga, the “essayistic” “Pantasma” is inspired by an unpublished book, “Del fuego y de la sangre,” by former Sandinista Félix Vijil, now Carrión’s husband, a personal memoir of his experience in the war in Nicaragua. The film will also feature interviews with former Contra fighters who now live in exile in Costa Rica and Honduras. 

Vigil’s book is “a journey towards disenchantment,” powered by his discovery of “a far more complex reality on the ground regarding who the enemy really is, versus what the official propaganda portrays: The realization that the revolution is fighting Nicaraguan peasants and not paid mercenaries will make him question everything he believes in,” Carrión has said.

Unearthing “untold stories and identity of the enemy, while questioning the very purpose of war,” “Pantasma” will also take in Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega’s return to power from 2007 and his violent repression of dissident voices in 2021, including many former Sandinista revolutionaries. 

Vigil and Carrión fled Nicaragua, reuniting with Vigil’s family in Canada, deepening his “idea that the conflict behind the 1980s war never ended.”

“Something that sets this film apart is that both Leonor, the main producer and I, the director and co-writer, are both in exile. This has inspired us to expand the cinematic language through the use of stop-motion, a largely unexplored animation technique in Central America,” said Carrión.

Unable to shoot in Nicaragua, in order to tell a far more nuanced story of Nicaragua’s Contras, in “Pantasma” Carrión will use stop-motion animation, creating dry corn leaf small-scale replicas of places and figures, mixed with archival footage, video art and photos, sometimes projected onto the screen, “The Missing Picture”-style.”

“It is thus through animation that we will reconstruct and reclaim the territory that has been taken away from us while transcending censorship and repression,” Carrión told Variety.

“Instead of letting exile limit us, we chose to turn it into a source of inspiration,” said Zuñiga, who has lived the last four years in Costa Rica.  

“I realized that Nicaragua exists beyond the borders of the country. There are talented Nicaraguans in exile willing to collaborate. We also aim to bring together local artisans with experienced animators from abroad to learn from their techniques,” she added. 

At Locarno, Zuñiga is looking for potential European co-producers, she said.

Earning a master’s degree in environment and development from the London School of Economics, Carrión’s first documentary feature, 2017’s “Heiress of the Wind,” premiered at IDFA and screened at 80 festivals. Her short animated documentary “Hojas de K.,” premiered at Sheffield Doc

Fest and formed part of the Open Doors Screenings 2022 selection. 

Gloria Carrion & Leonor Zuniga
Courtesy of Caja de Luz

John Hopewell

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