Havana’s “Problem-Filled” Film Festival

Irina Echarry

From Katka, a 2009 Czech documentary.
From Katka, a 2009 Czech documentary.

HAVANA TIMES — Some years ago, the Havana Film Festival would herald a time in which people were readying for (or already enjoying) the winter. The “atmosphere of the festival” was a mixture of winter cold and the human warmth that emanated from theatre-goers.

One heard the constant noise of people talking about the films they had seen or were about to see. People would run from one theatre to the next (wherever possible) to see as many films as they could in a single day.

Today, things aren’t exactly like that – neither the weather nor the people.

The hot sun beats down on quiet, orderly lines of people waiting to go into the theatres. There is a fair number of people in line, true, but not as many as one saw in previous festivals. In terms of people’s comments, there’s just about everything.

The most common thing one hears young and not-so-young people say is that they prefer watching European films, because “they’re not in the mood to see so many social problems.”

That’s a curious thing to say during the 35th Havana Film Festival, an opportunity to see the latest films made in the continent and, in the meantime, have a look at films from other parts of the world.

You’ll find problems in any country, no matter where it is located geographically. I was already convinced of this before I saw Katka, a 2009 Czech documentary which confirmed this viewpoint.

For 14 years, Helena Tresticova (the director) followed a young woman with a drug addiction. Without passing judgment or taking any particular side, the filmmaker shows us the emotional and physical changes experienced by the girl and her partners, the difficulties she faces while pregnant and the loss of her custody rights over the child.

In Uruguayan filmmaker Alfredo Soderguit’s short animated film Anina, Anina Sayas Yatay deals with the difficulties she faces in school because of her strange name.
In Uruguayan filmmaker Alfredo Soderguit’s short animated film Anina, Anina Sayas Yatay deals with the difficulties she faces in school because of her strange name.

Though a sense of anxiety grabs hold of the audience from the very beginning, no one leaves the theatre as this harrowing and intense drama unfolds on the screen, almost taking one’s breath away.

Another man with serious problems is Henry, who must raise his small child alone while his wife serves a prison sentence for having relations with a minor. This is what happens in Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s The Husband.

We see three other young people with problems in La Jaula de Oro (“The Golden Cage”), Diego Quemada-Diez’ first feature film. Through the stories of its different characters, the film explores the experience of immigrating to the United States in search of financial improvement.

It is the story of thousands of people in Central America who have set their sights on the “land of opportunity.” As the film unfolds, the image of the paradise the young people were hoping to find slowly unravels.

With a cast of non-professional actors – people who have actually experienced the dramas they portray – the film speaks directly and unflinchingly about emigration, inviting us to reflect on the issue.

A less serious but equally significant problem can be caught sight of in the conflicts experienced by a couple, the two Colombian teenagers in Oscar Ruiz Quintana’s short film Solecito (“Little Sun”). In the film, Camila and Maicol converse, dispel their doubts and become reconciled.

Who doubts that a little girl can experience serious problems while discovering the world? In Uruguayan filmmaker Alfredo Soderguit’s short animated film Anina, Anina Sayas Yatay deals with the difficulties she faces in school because of her strange name.

Each of the girl’s names can be read the same forwards and backwards, that is, they are palindromes, something which the other kids mock. Relying on magnificent illustrations that at times recall water-color paintings, Anina is a humane, tender, humorous and thought-provoking short.

So, it seems there is no shortage of problems at this year’s festival – some are solved, others are not. The important thing is not to miss the stories people tell. And there’s still plenty of time until the end of the Festival on Sunday December 15.


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