WITH only a short time to go until the 38th Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema (December 8-18), event President Iván Giroud announced that a total of 437 films will be screened over the ten days.
During a crowded press conference in the Hotel Nacional's Aguiar Hall, Giroud noted that 18 feature films, 22 short and medium-length films, 26 documentaries and 27 animations will be in competition, together with the other films included in the different sections of the Festival (series, tributes, special presentations).
The presence of Cuban cinematography this year, in terms of feature films alone, which are always privileged, is less than in 2015, when an unprecedented total of nine films featured in competition. For this 38th edition only two were selected to compete in the official category of Debut Works and three in that of Feature Films.
Esteban, the debut film by director Jonal Cosculluela, is the only one to have already premiered in Cuban cinemas, proving to be popular among audiences. This 90-minute drama tells the story of a nine-year-old boy who, despite his difficult reality, dreams of playing the piano.
The leading roles are played by the young Reynaldo Guanche and the renowned and versatile actress Yuliet Cruz, with the soundtrack, created and performed by pianist Chucho Valdés, undoubtedly constituting the third lead role.
The second debut, El techo, is directed by Patricia Ramos, a young graduate of the San Antonio de los Baños International School of Film and Television (which will be honored at the Festival on its 30th anniversary), who made a name for herself with the fictional short Na Na in 2004, followed by El patio de mi casa (2007).
El techo— according to the publicity, since it has not yet been released — is a film with many dialogues, set at all times on a rooftop. The synopsis centers on three young friends, who meet daily on a rooftop in central Havana, to tell stories and share their dreams, and who, in the midst of their boredom, lack of resources, and dreaming of prosperity, decide to set up a business of their own.
Ramos opted for new faces in her casting, with Enmanuel Galbán, Andrea Doimediós, and Jonhatan Navarro.
THREE CUBAN FEATURE FILMS
Fernando Pérez, National Film Award winner, won over audiences with his fictional debut Clandestinos in 1987. All his films center on Havana: Madagascar, Hello, Hemingway, La vida es silbar, Suite Habana, José Martí. El ojo del canario, Madrigal, La pared de las palabras; and his latest film competing for a Coral Award: Últimos días en La Habana, as of yet only screened during this year’s ICAIC Young Filmmakers Showcase.
According to the director himself, this is a minimalist and very narrative film, which posed a challenge as the drama is set 75 percent of the time in a single room.
The well-known actors Jorge Martínez and Patricio Wood play Diego and Miguel, respectively, two friends who live together in an apartment in the neighborhood of Los Sitios, in Centro Habana, the first has AIDS. The plot centers on their relationship.
With Isabel Santos and Luis Alberto García in the lead roles, two who have shared the spotlight on several occasions, precisely since the aforementioned, and already classic, Clandestinos, comes Ya no es antes, the third feature film by Lester Hamlet, inspired by the play Weekend en Bahía, by the playwright Alberto Pedro, one of the greatest successes of Cuban dramaturgy of the eighties.
Lester Hamlet, also the screenwriter of the work, together with Mijail Rodríguez, face the challenge of a film in a single location and featuring just two characters, to return to the theme of exodus and family separation, two issues so often addressed in Cuban cinema, this time from the point of view of a couple.
With Sharing Stella, director Enrique Álvarez obtained the Post-Production Coral Award of the past Festival, participated in the Marché du film of the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival and has now been selected to compete in the 38th edition of the Havana festival.
Yet to be screened in Cuba, the synopsis notes that Sharing Stella chronicles the 2014 search by a director for a leading actress for his adaptation of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sharing Stella is Álvarez's fifth feature film, preceded by Venecia, Jirafas, La Ola and Sed (1991).
Cuban participation in other categories of the official contest is broad, with six documentaries, four medium and short films, seven animations, three unpublished scripts and 13 posters. To list all the titles would be overwhelming for the reader, but there are several recognizable names including: the great actor Isabel Santos as a director; Jorge Molina; Gloria Rolando, and Juan Padrón Blanco.
RESTORED CLASSICS AND A TRIBUTE
The president of the Festival acknowledged that the event must concern itself with preserving its broad and rich history and announced a new section, “Clásicos restaurados” (Restored Classics), which will see the screening of essential Cuban films: Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Havana, 1928-96), undoubtedly a masterpiece; Una pelea cubana contra los demonios (1971), inspired by the book Historia de una pelea cubana contra los demonios by Fernando Ortiz; and Los sobrevivientes (1972).
The fourth restored classic is Retrato de Teresa (1979), by Pastor Vega, in all fairness one of the milestones of Cuban cinema. Written by Ambrosio Fornet, the film acutely examines the persistence of machismo in the Cuban context and features the unforgettable performances of Daisy Granados and Adolfo Llauradó.
Pastor Vega (Havana, 1940-2005) was director of the Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema during its first twelve editions.
Giroud recognized the efforts of the Cinematheque of Bologna, the Hollywood Academy and the foundations of U.S. directors George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, in completing these restorations.
Julio García Espinosa, 2004 National Film Award winner, also a president of the Festival and ICAIC, between 1983 and 1990, who died in April of this year at the age of 90, will be honored with a colloquium dedicated to his work, the exhibition Vivir bajo la lluvia, posters of some of his films and personal photos and the book launch of the same title, a compilation of his texts by Dolores Calviño.
His third feature film, Aventuras de Juan Quinquín (1967), based on the novel Juan Quinquín en Pueblo Mocho by Samuel Feijóo, is considered a classic of Cuban cinema. His films to be screened at the Festival are: La inútil muerte de mi socio Manolo (1989) and the documentary Tercer mundo, tercera guerra mundial (1970), in which, with the collaboration of writer Roberto Fernández Retamar, he explored the Vietnam War and the crimes committed by the United States in that context.
AS IF THAT WERE NOT ENOUGH…
Cuban cinematography will also be well represented, with some 30 works, in the different categories outside the competition, among them “Latin America in perspective”, which has been subdivided into themes such as the colors of diversity, culture, memory, vanguard, for all ages, blockbusters, society and adult films.
It should be recognized that Cuban films maintain a good presence in the Festival, but as far as the competition, we will have to wait for the decisions of the judges, with which neither the critics nor the public always agree.
Most importantly, Cubans, who are very fond of cinema, have the increased opportunity during the Festival to see a wide range of films from other countries and of different genres. Latin American films are highly appreciated, but there is no doubt that there is a true passion for national cinematography.