TIFF co-founder Henk Van der Kolk has started work on the new International Film Festival Panama (set to kick off April 11-17, 2012).

“At least half of our movies will be Latin American with the balance from everywhere else in the world,” says the Dutch-born, Panama-based Canadian. “We’re going with 50 films in the first year but they all have to be gems.”

But he’s not shooting for world premieres: “I don’t need the premiers in year one. We’ll bring in the stars!” he says.

Van der Kolk says he hopes to attract “culture travelers”, a new breed of international festival-goers who have the capital to travel the world enjoying the seventh art, amongst others.

“We want to get to these culture travelers - people with money who trundle around the world and go to film festivals and things,” he explains.

“By doing it in April, people in the Northern Hemisphere are still in that head space of winter they’ve just experienced; they want to lie on the beach and you can do that in Panama,” he says. “It’s an easy reach with direct flights to Europe and North America.”

To finance the venture, Van der Kolk has reached out to the Panamanian government to invest and he is also to “talking to tourism and real estate. I think I’ll put the money together fairly easily now that I have government support, but there’s no real history of sponsorship in South America.”

IFF Panama consists of a number of board members and creative advisors including Panamanian filmmakers and local entertainment industry representatives, among them Pituka Ortega Heilbron, Abner Benaim, Luis Pacheco and actor/songwriter Ruben Blades.

Part of his master plan is to educate. “It reminds me of Canada in 1976 where we were considered part of the American domestic market and everyone is accustomed to American film,” he says of a Panamanian market composed of 97% American pictures. “In, 76’our press had no interest in us as Canadian filmmakers. So we held a film festival to bring the world to us.”