A Fugitive Film Festival

Erasmo Calzadilla

The Havana Film Festival takes place in the first half of each December. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 21 — The Festival of New Latin American Cinema (aka: Havana Film Festival) is (from my point of view, of course) the greatest annual event in the Cuban capital.

Because it occurs in winter, the weather is nice, people are friendlier and the foreigners who are attracted here by the film festival give the town a cosmopolitan air. What’s more, for a short period, the nights along the capital’s main streets are not dominated by reggaeton, the police and sexual tourism.

Over the last several months I didn’t go to the movies so as to avoid having to deal with the exasperating bus situation, but when the film festival starts it’s like a fire being lit. I forget about the bad transportation, the fatigue, hunger and I try to see everything I can.

I became interested in the film festival when I started college, back in 1994. Before that I was only mildly interested because it wasn’t a major part of the cultural environment in the poorer outlying areas of town (like where I grew up) here in Havana, Cuba.

Paradoxically, the festival doesn’t reach the neighborhoods, though the original idea was to encourage revolutionary and popular cinema (in the best sense of those words), not one that was for the enlightened elites or the urbane educated middleclass.

Much has happened since its inception in 1978, since which time its revolutionary and emancipatory ideals have faded considerably. People (in general) now follow films with easy handles and well-worn themes.

The cinematographic industry on our continent is increasingly adjusting to this dynamic, and Havana’s New Latin American Film Festival — though surnamed “New” — has been opening its arms to these types of films. For many years I had avoided them at the festival.

My hours in the festival used to be devoted running from cinema to cinema, chasing after recommended movies, mainly from outside the region including those in the “Panorama International” section, but in this 33rd annual edition of the festival, everything changed thanks to a catalog that a friend gave me.

The catalog, with a synopsis of each film and other information, is one of those that are all in color and that sell for what’s an exorbitant price for any Cuban who lives off of their official wage. Through its guidance, though, I hit a winning streak of excellent Latin American documentaries.

I witnessed the struggle of the Mapuches in Chile to regain their land from the hands of the multinationals; the attempt to prosecute the still-free perpetrators of genocide in Guatemala; the political life of a writer who became president after the dictatorship of the Dominican Trujillo; the drama of the indigenous people of a Caribbean paradise in Panama who are being displaced by wealthy foreigners; and a film on the systematic spying by the Puerto Rican government, with the help of the CIA, on Puerto Ricans who support their country’s independence.

Now I’m much better informed and sensitized about all of this, thanks to a catalog that almost no locals can buy.

I know that the festival organizers are making an effort and that the economic issue is delicate, plus the admission price to the cinema is still very cheap.

However, faced with the dilemma of turning the Havana festival into one whose identity is only regional (for the larger budget Latin American cinema), I would prefer — and I think it would be more interesting — to take the more modest step (in economic terms) but the more ambitious and beautiful step (in aesthetic and political terms) to pursue its original idea.

I wonder if the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) is interested in that, or will someone have to come up with the “Fugitive” Film Festival?


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

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One thought on “A Fugitive Film Festival

  • Thanks for your report, Erasmo. In the States, attendance at most film festivals are prohibitive. First, they are held in cities (New York, Park City, UT, etc.) where even the cheapest hotel room is well over $150/night. Hence, for most people, especially us folks from the hinterlands, we only find out about such films on the Independent Film Channel or the Sundance Channel on satellite or cable TV. Also, some older independent fiction and documentary films are available on YouTube (e.g. the first banned Cuban documentary, circa 1961 “P.M.”). Recently, I’ve discovered some good short works on “Vimeo” (e.g. Bombillo/The Light Bulb, Vermont Divers, etc.). Still, I long for the shared “communion” of the film festival, where, after the film, several friends would adjourn to a local bar or cafe to discuss what we had just seen.

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