Dreamy Night in Gibara, Cuba

By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA TIMES, April 16 (IPS) – Happiness overcame the night in the coastal town of Gibara. Families, bands of musicians, youth waving their national flags, and more than a thousand people from Havana and other provinces were attending the inauguration of the Humberto Solas 7th International Festival of Low-Budget Cinema.

Opening night parade
Opening night parade

The dream of one of Cuba’s most important film directors, who died this past September 17, was that the festival not be organized by bureaucratic decision-makers, but by the rare confluence of the efforts of friends, artists, intellectuals, and journalists, and especially the people of this small Cuban town resolved to fight for their festival.

“In 2008, in the wake of the hurricanes and Solas death, we were challenged with organizing a festival in Gibara of the same magnitude of those two forces, but we were especially concerned that it not lose its original joy or spirit,” festival director Sergio Benvenuto told IPS.

Monday night’s inaugural began with a mass parade. The Gibara hymn was sung as fireworks were displayed, as they are every year, filling with awe those in attendance.

The “townspeople,” to whom Solas dedicated his last two movies (Miel para Oshún (Honey for Oshún / 2001), and Barrio Cuba (2005), had a simple explanation: “Humberto was always good to Gibara; the low-budget cinema festival cannot disappear,” said a fisherman/shrimp vendor, who added that he had seen “more than one person crying with emotion.”

“It was a very powerful phenomenon. Once again people crowded the festival, feeling that magic that is experienced only here and where people are left as if hypnotized,” Benvenuto affirmed.

“It’s like a train, you can be absent but it continues anyway. The people take over the city and event. It’s something that left our hands a long time ago, but in a very harmonious way,” he added.

The original idea of Solas was to organize a festival in “this very humble and so beautiful town, completely lacking red carpets and silliness, or mummies and ridiculousness. The Festival of Low-Budget Cinema maintains its essence of defending the “courage to go out and make cinema” and is making inroads towards its “multicultural” aim.

Essayist Juan Antonio García Borrero, a juror in the fiction category said, “In the beginning, I didn’t care for low-budget cinema a great deal. I was afraid that it would sink into the aesthetics of poverty, but later I understood that Gibara had more to do with ethics than with aesthetics. It’s an attempt to promote a more reflective, critical and more personal cinema.”

Art exhibitions, donations of works to a yet-to-exit museum of contemporary art, concerts and cultural gatherings join the film screenings, workshops, and meetings with directors through Sunday. There will also be a homage to Tomas (“Titan”) Gutierrez Alea (1928-1996), one of the grand names of Cuban cinema.

Retos de la naturaleza (Challenges of nature), a photo exhibit co-sponsored by the National Information Agency of Cuba and the Inter Press Service (IPS), will display images of the hurricanes and the damage suffered across Cuba in 2008. The display is being presented for the first time in one of the hardest hit cities.

Low-Budget Film Festival director, Sergio Benvenuto. Photo: Amauris Betancourt, www.radioangulo.cu
Low-Budget Film Festival director, Sergio Benvenuto. Photo: Amauris Betancourt, www.radioangulo.cu

“The reaction of people is as if all the pictures had been taken here, although we know that’s not the case; these are shots from all over the country,” noted Benvenuto.

An exhibit dedicated to “invisible artists” was an idea of film director Enrique Pineda Barnet (La bella de la Alhambra / 1989). He stressed that it was for “everyone, from theater prompters to all those employees in radio, television and the cinema who perform work of a refined, artisanal and exquisite quality, but who are completely unknown and underestimated.”

“That tear that dropped down the cheek of an actress because she couldn’t cry that day, the sponge wet with dirty water used for aging a jacket, or the brushing of a suit to give it a cheap look: all that is invisible art,” added Pineda Barnet, who is bent on honoring “those who make cinema, whatever their task.”

Also in the realm of the “invisible” are what Benvenuto calls “implicit codes.” The inauguration of the festival with the Solas film Un día de noviembre (A November day / 1972), in one way or another summarizes the efforts of those who people who have since 2007 promoted reflection on the quinquenio gris (the grey five-year period) of Cuban culture.

Throughout that period of stifling government control, this “accursed” movie by Solas was “shelved,” according to cinema critic Joel del Río. For six years it collected dust, and was hardly ever shown in Cuba after that. The work, which Solas always considered his most imperfect, will now return to the big screen with all its probing force.

“It’s a movie that is fairly successful from the point of view of its script and staging. If it has an exceptional merit, it’s that it testifies to the sadness that reigned at that time (on the island),” the film director affirmed in a statement published in 2000 in the book Tras la huella de Solás (In the footprint of Solas).

As a continuation of the reflections on middle class urbanites, begun by Titon in Memorias del subdesarrollo (Memories of underdevelopment / 1968), Un día de noviembre shows “the main character’s inability to join in with the optimism of the sugarcane harvest, socialist emulation or rumba rituals,” said Del Rio.

“Their negation appeared to be borne out by solid and irrefutable reason as knowing they had been struck with some mortal illness. But that was the time of subordinating everything-health, one’s family or private life- to the epic films of collective labor,” added the critic in the article featured on the front cover of the first edition of the 7th festival’s tabloid.

Opening of Low-Budget Film Festival in Gibara, Cuba. Photo: Amauris Betancourt, www.radioangulo.cu
Opening of Low-Budget Film Festival in Gibara, Cuba. Photo: Amauris Betancourt, www.radioangulo.cu

The production of the movie coincided with the establishment of a cultural policy that tried to enthrone socialist realism. This canon promoted the censorship of more than a few works and ostracized intellectuals and artists who were homosexual or religious, or who demonstrated any other “ideological deviation.”

“What are most important are the questions that many people asked after the showing of the movie, or following the distribution of the article by Joel de la Río and the presentation by Rufo Caballero (a Cuban cinema critic). Questions and reflections came to the minds of people who attended the inauguration,” Benvenuto commented.

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