HAVANA TIMES — For ten days, audiences in Havana enjoyed the stories and characters of the films and documentaries screened at the Havana Film Festival. During these intense days, some felt shock, others anger and yet others empathy. Some suffered and no few had a good laugh. It was a festival for all tastes. When the award-winning films were announced, most spectators already had their own, personal awards list ready.
Cuban films drew the largest crowds this year. Ernesto Daranas’ Conducta (“Conduct”) was awarded the Coral for Best Film, but the most talked-about movie was Marilyn Solaya’s Vestido de Novia (“Wedding Dress”). People stressed the excellent performances of Laura de la Uz and Isabel Santos. It is no accident it received the Audience Choice Award.
Among the foreign films screened, Argentina’s Relatos Salvajes (“Savage Tales”) was among the most talked about by audiences. While a good many spectators praise the film, a considerable number of people left the theater disappointed, feeling the issue was a mere pretext for scenes of extreme violence. The jury, however, took other merits into consideration and bestowed it with the Best Direction and Editing awards.
The public’s opinions about the films at the festival tend to vary according to taste. Many films were unable to capture people’s attention. They received some acclaim, but soon receded to oblivion, as though no one had actually seen them.
Gueros (“Whiteys”) by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios, received the Coral for Best First Feature but, despite its provocative nature, it did not appeal to many of our young university students, ultimately unaware of the reality of a boycott or strike. No one speaks about the film’s two characters, who do not know what to do with their lives while the university is shut down. They are neither in favor nor against the strike, they simply believe that the strike at Mexico’s UNAM is interfering with their studies. This way, the film reveals that the student leaders behind the strike are radical to the point of being ridiculous, justifying the attitude of the main characters. The conflicts between these student leaders give way to a powerful and unprejudiced critique of the situation.
Another film dealing with the issue of an unsuccessful student protest is Ciencias naturales (“Natural Sciences”), by Chilean director Matias Lucheis. A group of students decides to support a teacher who was forced to retire. They lock themselves up in a classroom to demand that she be rehired and encourage the other students in the school to request her reinstatement. Things get ugly: they destroy and dirty things, they even attack the principal, but, when it’s time to go home, no one gives it a second thought. Those inside the classroom debate whether continuing the fight is worth it, until the principal takes a file to the classroom. Everyone thinks it’s the teacher’s new contract, but the file actually contains the negative opinions about the teacher that those who support her once wrote, and which led to the decision to retire the old teacher. This puts into question the actual reasons behind the student struggle. The film, devoid of any artistic qualities, went unnoticed by the jury. The issue did not have an impact on spectators either.
The documentaries dealing with environmental issues did not have a huge impact either – most were screened in nearly empty theaters, actually. Resitencia (“Resistance”), by Guatemalan director Alejandro Ramirez Anderson, tells the story of three communities in Central America pitted against transnational corporations, determined not to be driven out by these and to retain their way of life. The documentary reflects the reality of those who live in the town of Terraba, in Costa Rica, who could be left without their forests because of the construction of a hydroelectric plant. Farmers in the biosphere reserve of Rio San Juan, Nicaragua, are forced to sell their lands to companies that grow crops and are responsible for deforestation. The inhabitants of El Estor, Guatemala, are seeing their forests disappear under the advance of mining companies.
Another documentary that did not draw a large audience, Cuerpos de agua (“Bodies of Water”), tells us about the flooding of a region in Argentina in the 1980s, and how the town of Bolivar managed not to perish under the water through its own resources, despite the opposition of government authorities.
The most popular section of the festival was undeniably A Sala Llena (“Full House”), whose name was indeed fitting. A broad range of box office hits were screened at Havana’s theaters. In some, people were able to see some of the actors they have come to know thanks to Brazilian soaps, or the little person played by Argentinean comedy actor Francella.
More informative pieces were also screened. All who attended the screenings at Multicine Infante to catch Eugene Jarecki’s documentaries were left satisfied, though slightly overwhelmed by the abundance of information. Following the policies of some US presidents, the war on drugs and the arms race, Jarecki offers us a critical glance at his country’s politics. Wearing shorts and speaking in both English and Spanish, the young US director interacted extensively with the audience. This is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the festival: in addition to bringing us the latest films from the continent and around the world, it treats us to meetings with actors and filmmakers and affords us the opportunity to hear their opinions.
The 36th Havana Film Festival has ended and thousands of Cubans – myself included – are already anxiously awaiting the next.
Main Havana Film Festival Awards:
– Best Dramatic Feature: Conducta (Cuba)
– Dramatic Feature – Special Award: Tierra en la lengua (Colombia)
– Dramatic Short Mid-Length Feature Award: Sin corazon (Brazil)
– Best Director: Damian Szifron (Relatos salvajes, Argentina)
– Best Female Lead Award: Geraldine Chaplin (Dolares de arena, Dominican Republic-México)
– Best Male Lead: Armando Valdes (Conducta, Cuba)
– Best Screenplay: Celina Murga-Gabriel Medina (La tercera orilla, Argentina)
– Best Cinematography: Wojtek Staron (Refugiado, Argentina)
– Best Art Direction: El cerrajero (Argentina)
– Best Editing: Relatos salvajes (Argentina)
– Best Original Score: Praia do futuro (Brazil)
– Best Sound Design: Praia do futuro (Brazil)
– Best First Feature: Güero (Mexico)