Panama, August 17, 1960.
After finishing her education in the United States, in 1982, Pituka Ortega Heilbron returned to Panama where her first job was as a real estate broker. This, she did for a year and half. Then she began writing for local magazines and in the late 80’s she founded Década, along with friend and Panamanian novelist and poet, Consuelo Tomás. Decada was a plateau for local artists to express their poetry, art photography and short stories. It was also a magazine that explored the offbeat happenings of the city. This was a very fulfilling time for Ortega Heilbron, but the desire to make films burned deep in her heart. This would be a challenge in a country with a limited history of filmmaking.
In late 1993, she connected with filmmaker Enrique Castro Ríos and under the leadership of playwright and film critic Soberón Torchia, they brought together a group of local artists to form a non profit organization, called CIMAS (Centro de Imagen y Sonido/ Center of Image and Sound) that fostered a filmmaking movement that would tell Panamanian stories. The center also looked to establish an archive of Panamanian audiovisual images. Their belief was that each country needed to create, record and store its own images and see itself on the screen. Then, and only then, the process of a nation’s self knowledge and auto analysis could begin to unfold. She still considers this an important tool in the evolution of a nation. She gave CIMAS seven years of her life and CIMAS gave back to her as well. In 1994, she was selected to participate in a screenwriting workshop in Cuba, with Gabriel García Marquez. Only eight young Latin American screenwriters had been selected and she was one of the lucky ones. This experience marked her for life. In 1994 she co scripted and co produced the fiction/documentary short: India Dormida, which told the story of the perils of a little boy who wanted to make films in a country like Panama. The film won the Video Award from the Institute of National Culture (INAC). In 1998 she directed her first fiction short, El Mandado, which made it to many international film festivals. Her last piece, the documentary The Fists of a Nation (2006), received many international awards and positive reviews and in 2009 was listed as one of the most important 50 films in the last 40 years of Ibero American filmmaking history. She presently works on her latest documentary, La Ruta, which should be finished its post production phase by November 2012. Ms. Ortega Heilbron has written Op Eds in local papers. Social, cultural and women’s issues are of especial interest to her. When election time arrives, she follows politics very closely, for she believes that it is the most certain way to get to see a nation’s personality and mood, provided the process is democratic. She travels extensively and lives in Panama city, Panama, with her husband and three children.