A Sneak Peak at this Year’s Havana Film Festival

By Arielka Juarez

HAVANA TIMES — Filmmakers from 10 Latin American countries will compete for the Feature Film Coral Award at this year’s Havana Film Festival, to be held in the Cuban capital from December 5 to 15.

Argentina and Mexico will compete with four features, Chile (which swept the board last year) with three, Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil with two and Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay and Ecuador with one each. A total of 21 films are in the dramatic feature film competition.

Yvy maraey – Tierra sin mal / Juan Carlos Valdivia Flores (Bolivia)

Paying tribute to its late founder Alfredo Guevara, the 35th Havana Film Festival will screen “over 300 films from Latin America and 108 from the rest of the world” at over a dozen Havana film theaters, venues which welcome half a million spectators a year, the new director of the festival, Ivan Giroud, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Giroud became the director of the Havana Film Festival following Guevara’s death in April this year.

The festival will open with Gloria, by Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio. Actress Paulina Garcia’s performance in this film earned her a Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival, and she is now the Chilean nominee for the next Oscars and Goya awards.

Gloria tells the story of a mature, divorced woman who decides she no longer wants to be alone and goes out dancing in search of a new love.

One of Cuba’s two feature films in competition this year is Arturo Sotto Diaz’ Boccaccerias habaneras, based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s world-renown classic The Decameron (1351).

Soto, the director and screenwriter, adapted the book for the big screen by dividing the plot into three individual stories. These stories revolve around the room of a writer in the midst of a creative crisis. In this space, characters meet and share their life experiences, hoping to become topics or characters in the writer’s novel.

“The aim was to create an enjoyable, a pleasurable cinematic experience. We weren’t after smiles, or laughs or humor within a harshly critical depiction of our reality, as has been the case in other films. We wanted to reflect on reality, taking laughter as our point of departure. The accent falls more on the situations, the events, the ups-and-downs of the different stories, than on the global context of the film,” Soto said during an interview for the magazine Cuba Cine, while still in production.

The other Cuban film to be screened at the festival this year is a co-produced, independent feature, filmmaker Enrique Alvarez Martinez’ Jirafas (“Giraffes”). The film was co-produced by the filmmaker’s production house (Kine Alvares), Colombia and Panama.

Jirafas is a feature film that seeks to capture the changes taking place in Cuban society today. The plot is made up of a series of analogies that recreate situations having to do with co-existence: work relationships, housing, conflicting interests, machismo, secrets, invasions of privacy, consumerism and the precariousness of people’s financial situations.

The film centers on the life of a couple (Lia and Manuel) who are squatting in a home that has been boarded up. Tania is trying to recover her ownership rights over the house inherited by her uncle and wants to have them evicted. The squatters aren’t willing to go and Tania decides to move in to the second floor of the house.

Nearly all of the film was shot indoors, in Alvarez’ home. The film was screened at the Rotterdam Festival in January and recently won the Brooklyn Festival’s Spirit Award.

As always, Argentina will have a strong presence at the Havana Film Festival this year, competing with four feature films: Juan Esteban Taratuto’ La Reconstruccion (“The Reconstruction”), Santiago Loza’s La paz (“Peace”), Victoria Galardi’s Pense que iba a haber fiesta (“I Thought There’d Be a Party”) and Lucia Puenzo’s Wakolda.

Brazil follows with two films: Lucia Murat’s Memorias Cruzadas (“Conflict of Memories”) and Bruno Safadi’ Eden. One of the festival’s jury members will also be the award-winning Brazilian actor Lazaro Ramos, one of the protagonists of the Brazilian soap Insensato Corazon (“Senseless Heart”), shown on Cuban television.

A total of 21 dramatic feature films, 21 first features, 30 documentaries, 25 unproduced scripts, 22 mid-length and short films, 31 animated films and 33 movie posters.

The five Brazilian animated films in competition this year will include:

Omenino e o mundo – The Child and the World / Alê Abreu

In addition, Giroud explained that, as part of the festivities organized in celebration of the festival’s 35th years of existence, Havana’s Yara movie theatre will screen a selection of award-winning films, part of a series titled “Festival Winners”, from November 21 to December 1.

The films to be screened include the late Tomas Guitierrez Alea’s Strawberry and Chocolate (1994), nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1995.

“The series will make it possible for new generations to come into contact with some of the extraordinary films we’ve see in the course of these past 34 years,” the organizing committee stressed.

Festival passes will be on sale as of November 6 and can be purchased at all major Havana movie theaters and the Casa del Festival, located at #411 Calle 2, between 17th and 19th Streets, Vedado from 9 am to 6 pm on weekdays, and from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturdays.

Sold at 20 Cuban pesos, festival passes afford holders admittance to 15 films during the days of the festival.

More information about the festival, screenings, participant and visitor passes, conferences, venues and other aspects of the event can be found at the official website of the 35th Havana Film Festival.