Waning cinema attendance is a phenomenon affecting today’s film industry, as spectators abandon theaters, preferring to watch movies in the comfort of their own homes. In Cuba however, although the number of cinemas has been declining, there still exists a genuine passion for film.
When you add up those who attend diverse festivals, showcases, and film seasons which take place every year all over the island, the number exceeds hundreds of thousands.
The most popular of these annual events is the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, held in Havana and other provincial capitals across the country.
Cubans are great fans of national cinema, and premiers are always a popular public event. Even when a particular film isn’t of their liking, they eagerly return to see the next release.
A VARIETY OF PROPOSALS
The most recent film event to take place on the island was the 16th edition of the annual Young Filmmakers Showcase (April 4-19), organized by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), in order to “stimulate knowledge and reflection regarding the work of young filmmakers,” and a space for debate, discussion, creative exchanges between filmmakers, scriptwriters, photographers, producers, designers, and actors.
This year the showcase featured 25 fiction films, 10 documentaries and five animations, selected from a total of 87 submissions.
The works address a wide variety of themes and ideas, such as sexuality, eroticism, the impact of violence on children, historic memory, spirituality, family conflicts and social disparities in present-day Cuba.
With regard to the prize winning films selected by the jury, which included Cuban directors Lester Hamlet and Maryulis Alfonso, actor Mario Guerra, photography director Denise Guerra and art director Maykel Martínez, the panel noted the change of language and modes of storytelling employed by younger generations.
The top awards went to Un instante by Marta María Borrás, for Best Fiction Film; while Casa de la Noche, by Marcel Beltrán, and Carla Valdés León’s Días de Diciembre split the prize for Best Documentary, and El Pescador, by Ana A. Alpízar received the Special Jury Award.
Held parallel to the competition were other events such as “Moving Ideas,” a space for discussion which has been held alongside the showcase every year since its first edition and this 2017 focused on questions such as: Which stories do young Cuban filmmakers usually portray? What discursive strategies do they use to tell stories from memory?
800 KILOMETERS FROM HAVANA
The traditional Humberto Solás International Cine Pobre (Low-Budget) Film Festival bid farewell to make way for the Gibara International Film Festival, taking place this year from April 16-22, and presided by renowned Cuban actor and director Jorge Perugorría.
Perugorría addressed the event’s controversial name change during a press conference in the Festival of New Latin American Cinema headquarters, in the Havana neighborhood of El Vedado.
“The event is changing in some respects, but the legacy of its founder Humberto Solás, remains intact. We declare ourselves to be heirs of his work and like him, we believe in the transformative power of art and what it has meant for Gibara.”
According to the Perugorría, who played the character of Diego in the renowned Cuban film Strawberries and Chocolate, the name was changed in order to broaden the festival’s range of films and thus participation, expanding opportunities for better quality cinema, reflecting the changes occurring in the world today and the issue of technology in the film industry.
Regarding the ever relevant matter of continuity, he explained that the “Lucía,” award, in reference to one of Solás’ most emblematic films, has been created and will awards prizes in every category.
He also announced the presentation of a Lucía Lifetime Achievement Award, dedicated on this first occasion to Eslinda Núñez, Adela Legrá and the late Raquel Revuelta, in that order; and awarded “symbolically to the family of Humberto Solás, in honor of his own cinematographic work and the creation of the Low-Budget Film Festival.”
Another way to honor him, noted Perugorría, is to continue to support low-budget, committed, and highly artistic cinema, which is why we decided to create the Humberto Solás Film in Development Prize.
This year the festival will welcome Spain as guest country of honor, while various international artists will bring their most recent works to the event, including Argentine director Lucas Figueroa and actor Imanol Arias (who played Leonardo Gamboa in Humberto Solás’ 1981 classic Cecilia) with the film Despido procedente; as well as actress Victoria Abril, who will present Nacida para ganar, by Vicente Villanueva, 2016.
Special invitees include Puerto Rico’s Benicio del Toro, who will make the most of the occasion to present the book Un día feliz, which includes the conference on the film of the same name, given by himself and director Fernando León de Aranoa at the International Film School in San Antonio.
The competition received 141 entries from Cuba, Bolivia, the United States, Spain, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland, Nicaragua, Argentina and Brazil; 14 of which will be competing in the fiction category, 15 in fiction shorts, 10 in feature length documentaries and 15 in short documentaries.
Speaking with Sergio Benvenuto Solás, director and co-founder of the Low-
Budget Cinema project, in the gardens of the Festival headquarters, he recalled that Solás always felt a special affection for Gibara, ever since filming scenes for Lucía there; as well as Miel para Oshun, the first low-budget Cuban film to be shot digitally.
According to Benvenuto, it was whilst filming in Gibara that Solás came up with the idea to hold a low-budget film festival, which he saw as the future of Cuban cinema.
Meanwhile, the 16th Gibara International Film Festival coincides this year with celebrations for the costal town’s 200th anniversary (January 16).
AND IT’S ONLY APRIL
Eight months of the year still remain, with cinematic events such as the French Film Festival in May, which according to one of its founders, Christophe Barratier, has become an exceptional event above all due to the public’s positive response, followed by the much-anticipated International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in December.