When they say that cinema is the window on the world, it could not be truer than for the cinema in Cuba and especially for the cinema at the Havana Film Festival.
For most Cubans this is the only way to get a vision of life, love and death from anywhere outside the shores of the island.
The 33rd Inter-National Festival of New Latin American Film finished the other weekend in Havana, having run from the 1st until the 11th of December. The eager and educated local population and film professionals from around the World, could watch films from ten o’clock in the morning till the last screenings at ten o’clock at night, at cinemas all around Havana.
The Festival headquarters were based at the majestic, if a little well worn ‘Hotel National’. Here, there were press conferences during the day and in the evenings the directors could meet over ‘mojitos’ in the gardens of the hotel, with Cuban ‘Son’ musicians playing, and always a cool breeze coming in from the Caribbean sea.
I, personally, saw over thirty films, some made in Cuba, others in other islands in the Caribean, South and Central America, as well as films from Europe and North America.
There were the normal categories of Film in Competition, including Features, Directors First Feature, Documentary and Animation, and also special showings of new films from Canada, Norway, France, Poland and Serbia.
Part of the joy of the festival in Havana was to watch the films in the old style large theatres such as the Rivera, the Charles Chaplin and the Acapulco. Then after the screenings, to come out onto the street, which often appeared like a film set, with the low volume of traffic, and most of that pre-1960 American cars, and the lack of modern day advertising, billboards and bussle.
At the first screening of ‘Cool Hand Luke’, the theatre was packed, but we were asked to be patient as they could not project the especially restored 35mm version of the film, and so were waiting for a DVD copy to arrive. When this did not arrive, a silver haired Californian came to the front of the theatre, he was the original screenwriter , and he went on to explain how the film came about. Apparently, the Producer, by chance had noticed a cheap paperback in a Hollywood bookstore, and liking the title “Cool Hand Luke” brought the book and then the films rights without even bothering to read the book itself. Fortunately, the story was a good one, and with Paul Newman getting involved another Hollywood classic was in the making.
My favourite Cuban Film in Competition was “Fabula”, a story of romance in modern day Havana, which turned into an unusual love triangle. Notable South American films included the Brazilian “Elite Troop 2”, a blockbuster story of the war between police, the special police and drug gangs in Rio; “Bombal”, a period drama of the life of Chilean writer Maria Luisa Bombal; and “Las Acacias”, a road movie from a new director from Argentina.
There were visions of the continuing street crime in Venzuela in the film “Las Caras del Diablo” (The Faces of the Devil) , and of the families separated by the war in Guatemala, in the film “Distancia”.
The local audience roared with laughter at the comedy from Santo Domingo, “Lotoman”, which asked on the film poster ‘what would you do with 100 million?’, something the Cubans probably never even dream about.
The possible conflicts and problems caused by what was termed ‘residential tourism’ were highlighted in the documentary film “Paradise for Sale”, which focused on the North American buyers of land in coastal Panama.
The high profile “Bordertown” with Lopez and Banderas dramatically recreated the murders of young female workers at factory towns along the Mexican border.
The French film “Liberdad” (Korkoro) was a beautiful tale of the plight of a family of gypsies in Second World War torn France.
The film especially created for the Festival “Seven Days in Havana” was directed by seven chosen directors from the Latin Film World. It was celebrated by a big, post screening party at the ‘1830’ Club on the waterfront ‘Malecon Avenue’. Guests including Benicio del Toro, drank rum cocktails and danced to Cuban fusion music under the full moon, on the terraces of the club which were lapped by the dark, Caribbean sea.
The Festival is not really a working market festival due to the lack of Distributor Companies attending, but there were showings of experimental shorts, and the chance to view new work and new talent from all over Latin America and beyond.
I had a very interesting and amusing time at the Festival in Havana this year, and I was pleased to witness that the Cuban population still greatly appreciate this annual event which brings them their much needed window on the world.
The prizes were awarded on the last day of the Festival and included “Trope de elite2” for Best Director, “El inferno” from Mexico for Best Film, “Animales de alquiler”(Animals for rent) from Costa Rica for best Animated Film, “Agnus Dei” from Mexico for best Documentary and “Distancia” from Guatemala for Best Direstors First Film.
The writer of this blog, Robert Harrison, would like to thank Esencia Experiences and their team in Cuba, for all their expert local knowledge and their pre-trip advice, as without them my visit to Havana would probably not have been possible, and certainly would not have been so enjoyable.