Three new Cuban films are currently in different stages of production, and their directors hope they will make the cut to compete in the 40th edition of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, held in Havana every December.
Two of the films deal with historical events of 19th century Cuba, while the third spans different periods of the 20th century.
Inocencia (Innocence) is the title of the first movie, directed by Alejandro Gil, and inspired by the inhumane execution of eight medical students, in 1871, by Spanish colonial authorities.
The students Alonso Álvarez de la Campa, José de Marcos y Medina, Carlos Augusto de la Torre, Eladio González y Toledo, Pascual Rodríguez y Pérez, Anacleto Bermúdez, Ángel Laborde, and Carlos Verdugo, only 17-21 years of age at the time.
As has been explained, the film tells two stories in parallel: that which occurred in 1871, with their execution by firing squad; before making a leap forward, 16 years later, when Fermín Valdés Domínguez, who was also accused and served a prison sentence, struggles to prove the innocence of the young men on finding a new clue that places him close to discovering the key to unraveling the hidden truth of the case.
Gil has noted that painstaking research using texts, letters and press of the time, among other documents, was undertaken, because, although allowed some creative freedoms as a fiction film, it is based on real events.
Inocencia, produced by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), includes a screenplay by Amilkar Salatti, photography by the experienced Ángel Alderete, and music by Juan Antonio Leyva and Magda Rosa Galbán, who have accompanied the director in his previous feature films: La pared (2006) and La emboscada (2015).
In a certain way, Alejandro Gil returns to approach the Apostle José Martí. He did so in 1989, in the documentary Piensa en mí, whose title arises from a phrase that is repeated in Martí’s letters to María Mantilla; and later in Desde la ausencia, based on Ismaelillo, a work that the National Hero wrote for his son. Now he turns to Martí’s friend and comrade-in-arms, Fermín Valdés Domínguez.
Filmmaker Rigoberto López (documentary Yo soy del son a la salsa, 1996, and the feature lengths Roble de Olorand Vuelos prohibidos), has shot, according to his own opinion, one of the most ambitious projects of the last 30 years, the feature film El Mayor (The Major), a work of fiction that recreates real-life events of the mid-nineteenth century.
The depiction of the childhood and youth of Major General Ignacio Agramonte Loynaz, his immense love for his wife Amalia Simoni, his role as commander of the cavalry, and the epic feats in which he starred until his death in combat in Jimaguayú, at the age of 32, are highlights of this film.
Agramonte, also known as El Bayardo, fought in Camagüey (540 kilometers east of Havana) against the Spanish colonialist army in the mid-nineteenth century, and the director has assured that although the film contains some elements of fiction, it does not betray the rigorous historical research on which it is based.
Agramonte is played by Daniel Romero Pildain, accompanied by Claudia Tomás Fuentes in the role of Amalia. The cast also features U.S. actors Michael Redford (The Surface, 2015) in the role of Brigadier Henry Reeve (nicknamed The Little Englishman), who fought under the command of Agramonte; and Jonathan Burton (Yes Mum, 2012), as General Thomas Jordan, who served for some time during the so-called Ten Years War (1868-1878) as chief of the General Staff of the Liberation Army.
Production director Santiago Llapur explained that six battles were shot in the vast Camagüey plains, scenes in which up to 200 horses and 500 extras were used. Meanwhile, in the city itself, scenes were filmed in buildings connected to the life of Agramonte, today heritage sites in a perfect state of conservation.
Playwright Eugenio Hernández Espinosa, National Theater Prize winner (María Antonia, Mi socio Manolo) accompanied Rigoberto López with the complex script. Ángel Alderete serves as director of photography, and the music of Silvio Rodríguez and José María Vitier completes the soundtrack.
Arturo Sotto’s latest film (known for Pon tu pensamiento en mí, 1995, Amor Vertical, 1997 and Boccaccerías Habaneras, 2013), has been produced by the ICAIC, Ítaca Films (Mexico) and Cottos Producciones S.R.L (Dominican Republic), in collaboration with Programa Ibermedia. It is titled Nido de Mantis (Mantis’ Nest) and, according to the director, moves within the limits of drama and tragedy and continuously shifts between different periods of twentieth century Cuba.
According to the synopsis, the film tells the story of a love triangle between two men and a woman in a small sugarcane community. One morning in August 1994, they are found dead. Apparently, the suspect of this singular homicide is a girl of twenty years who was born of this love triangle, and was the only person in the house at the time. She pleads innocent and to prove it, she tells the prosecutor and the lawyer investigating the case of the emotional odyssey of her parents, a love story that lasted more than 40 years.
Yara Massiel, Armando Miguel Gómez and Caleb Casas are the protagonists of the film that features music by Beatriz Corona, costume design by Vladimir Cuenca, Ernesto Calzado as director of photography, and editing by Osvaldo Donatién and Sotto himself.
Three new Cuban films that hope to be selected to compete in this year’s Havana International Festival of New Latin American Cinema to be held December 6 through 16. The 40th edition will pay tribute to Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Titón), celebrating the 50th anniversary of his film Memories of Underdevelopment.