By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 22 – The 31st Havana Film Festival (Dec. 3-13) is just around the corner. In the run up to the highly popular event, we explored the life of one of the persons responsible for the programming of films to be projected in each cinema across the Cuban capital.
Elvira Rossell, is an impassioned fan of the cinema. Among the collection of DVDs and video cassettes in one of the Festival headquarters departments, a lively exchange took place in which we found the extent to which the “Seventh Art” has captured her dedication – a rewarding devotion that has resulted in enormous public satisfaction.
How and when did you first get involved with the Film Festival?
Beginning with the 10th festival I worked indirectly for this event, though this was only during the time of the Festival proper; later I had the opportunity to join the institution fulltime. Since 2002, I’ve been more involved with its programming…its coordination. I witness each Festival from the moment it is born, when the first movies…the first materials come in. When December is over and the Festival ends, my role is to coordinate the “Mediateca”; it’s a project that’s still not functioning to its full capacity but is attempting to.
What does the project consist of?
We’re trying to set up a library, a newspaper and periodicals library, and a video library on the Festival. The idea is for it to contain all the information possible concerning this annual event. People make their submissions, they’re accepted or not, and now they’ll be archived in the library. The same thing will occur with music or with pictures and books. I believe we can become the finest cultural institution responsible for all audiovisual information on Latin America.
What does it lack?
It’s still not in service because we’re digitizing the video library; we’re transferring everything to DVD so that access is easier for film directors and students. The idea is to give good service to all lovers of cinema…for specialists. Only local works have been transferred, though the mass of information continues to build up.
Who will have access to this media library?
We’re looking to having two or three computers with databases, so that any interested party -be they a specialist or not- can come and look for information on a particular director or a specific movie. We’ll also be able to record whenever we have the right to distribute a work.
Little is lacking now. There are obstacles owing to economic limitations, which affect us with everything. We have to do things little by little. We still lack work tables and computers, but we now have air conditioning and the database – so that’s something.
I can’t imagine that everything has been an obstacle. What satisfying experiences have you had over the years?
I love the cinema. To me, everything that revolves around it is good. I’ve been connected with ICAIC (the Cuban Film Industry Institute) since the 1980s. I began as a typist in the distribution of movies, and later I applied for other positions. Two years before coming here I was the director of the ICAIC archive, and that suited me fine, even though I had little time because of my position as a manager never allowed my role of researcher to surface. Now I’m very happy; I work with the jewels of Latin American cinema like no one can imagine. I’m working here as a specialist, though I hope someday I’ll be able to devote myself to doing more personal things.
In this position do you get to meet film personalities, or is it a more anonymous work?
Fortunately it’s very anonymous. I also like that discretion.
What new twists are in store for us at this upcoming Festival?
Like almost every year, there were many entries – more than 1,300. Of course all of them can’t be selected. There are 110 titles in the official competition and another 170 in parallel sections. As an innovation we have a program dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of ICAIC, which will be made up of three components: first is “50 Years of ICAIC – Selections by Cuban Critics,” featuring the ten most outstanding Cuban films picked through a survey sponsored by the Cuban Association; then there’s “Revolution Day by Day: ICAIC Latin American Newsreel,” an anthological exhibit from the 1960s; and finally “ICAIC – Concerning Its 50th,” with documentaries dedicated to the fiftieth anniversary of the institute.
In addition, there’s a section called “Vanguards,” which has to do with Brazilian music, and we also have a section dedicated to current North American cinema.
It makes me proud to be here. I receive many works from directors who are constantly creating…new directors and new forms of film language; I nurture myself on all that.
This year there are many interesting works in the Fiction competition: “A deriva,” by Heitor Dahlia; “Viajo porque preciso, volto porque te amo” by Marcelo Gomes and Karim Ainouz, both from Brazil; from Chile comes “La Nana,” directed by Sebastian Silva; and from Argentina has come a broad selection, like every year, such as “Francia” by Israel Adrian Caetano and “El secreto de sus ojos” by Juan Jose Campanella; and from Uruguay we’ll be able to see Hiroshima, by Pablo Stoll Ward.
In the “Debut Works” section there are some impressive entries. Especially good work is coming out of Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
What is Cuba presenting at the 31st edition?
We’re exhibiting a wide selection from Cuba: in the Debut Works section there’s the film by “Ciudad en rojo” by director Rebeca Chavez; in the Main Competition is “El Premio Flaco,” by Juan Carlos Cremata, based on a theatrical piece of the same name by playwright Hector Quintero; and “Lisanka,” by Daniel Diaz Torres. There’s a cartoon from ICAIC titled “Veinte Años,” by Barbaro Joel Ortiz; it’s a short stop motion work inspired by a song by Maria Teresa Vera.
Is there anything special for children?
There’s a section called “For All Ages,” which was inaugurated last year and is linked with the International Forum of the Audiovisual Universe of the Child. As its name indicates, there’s something for all ages and from all regions; there will be European cinema (from Poland, Norway, Portugal, Spain) and Latin American cinema (from Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina) for teens, younger children, etc. This section will be well supported, and I hope it pleases diverse tastes.
As a lover of the cinema, what movies capture you?
Those that tell me something…that tell me an interesting history. It doesn’t matter what’s the genre…it can be terror, it can be drama, a crime story, whatever. It can be the most intellectual or one with complicated language, but if it tells me something good, if it’s not a waste of time, it captures me.
What do you think of Cuban cinema from the 90s on?
I would highlight two directors: one is Fernando Perez and the other Juan Carlos Cremata. I don’t mean to imply that the others don’t have interesting work, but these two are the ones I prefer. This is based especially on what I like in the basic sense: the stories in their movies are good and are well told. In addition, they have good photography, good direction and what they say holds its relation with what you see in reality. By following their works, you pretty much have the history of Cuban cinema from the 1990s to now.
With such a complicated job, do you have time to watch movies during the Festival?
My work absorbs a great deal of my time. When I’m not at the Festival, I’m submerged in the Mediateca project…digitizing. But when I’m at the Festival it’s worse. My work is very stressful, I have to do the complete programming, and everything doesn’t always come out right. Right now I have everything prepared, but what is actually shown and when depends on when what films arrive.
The final program is published two days in advance. Every morning we have a coordinating meeting; if a movie has not arrived two days before its scheduled showing, we have to make changes.
Nevertheless, I look for time to enjoy the films, especially the International Panorama section, which is where films from different countries are shown. These have a sizable following, good directors and are generally good choices.
Which film do you recommend?
One is by Lars Von Trier titled “Antichrist.” Women don’t come out very well in it, but the photography is excellent, especially in the first twenty minutes…and everything that comes after. It’s a don’t miss.
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Film appreciation is a personal question. During the Festival one can delight in the most exquisite or sophisticated tastes. You only have to wait for early December to see the streets full of people running from cinema to cinema chasing their preferred films. People rush from their jobs so they don’t miss a showing or go to school after enjoying a good story. In this coming and going, it may just be possible that we’ll run into Elvira.