Cuba Movie Crazy over Havana Festival
The New Latin American Cinema Festival, which also includes parallel showings of European films and US independent productions, is my favorite event of the year and one of the many reasons I love living in the Cuban capital.
The Havana Festival opened Tuesday and extends over 11 days, always taking place in the first half of December. It is so popular that many locals take part of their vacations during this time of the year in order to see as much celluloid as possible and discuss with friends, neighbors and strangers about directors, actors and the movies themselves.
Others, like me, don’t have vacation time but burn the candle at both ends to take in as many full length films and shorts as possible and appreciate the tremendous creative effort involved.
It is also awesome to have many of the directors, producers and actors on hand to present their creations and answer questions in the theater lobbies. Those that come from the US often keep a low profile to avoid problems with their government.
The festival isn’t a commercial affair and that’s the other fantastic part about it. Movies year round in Cuba cost the equivalent of eight cents of a US dollar and entrance during the festival at the 18 participating cinemas remains the same. The result is that people of all walks of life, from pensioners to young students have the ability to go, and do in droves.
The screenings begin at 10:00 a.m. when there is an appreciably older audience. As the day progresses and long into the night up to the 11:30 p.m. showings, the crowd become notably younger.
My daughter is studying to be “another starving film director”, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez once described those daring enough to embark on such a career in an industry growingly dominated by Hollywood. Gabo, as he is known in the Spanish speaking world, is once again on hand for the festival.
From my lay perspective, and seeing the efforts of my daughter and her classmates at the Art Institute, I can now better appreciate how difficult it is to produce a decent one minute video clip or a 5 minute short film.
First the idea, the writing, and then the planning involved, the equipment, the logistics, the filming, the editing etc. The endless credits at the end of a movie become real people and the costs involved are astounding even if you get a lot of help from your friends, which is the way students here survive.
The Havana Film Festival gives new and experienced Latin American directors a place to show their stuff to an educated audience and a host of guests from around the world who flock to the island each year to enjoy the event.
On Tuesday, opening night, I went to see Pan’s Labyrinth, a 2006 Mexican, Spanish and US co-production by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro.
After downing a half liter of water during the opening ceremony and musical accompaniment I wanted to go to the bathroom half way through the film, but there was no way I was leaving my seat; not wanting to miss a second of the captivating film.
Set in Franco’s Spain in 1944, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) a 13-year-old stepdaughter of a despicable captain, gets help from story book characters that despite her inability to totally obey orders, guide her through magical passageways and dark moments to fulfill her destiny.
The backdrop for the fairy tale was the cruel reality after the Spanish Civil War when Franco’s henchmen, personified by Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), tried to exterminate all red traces of the 1936-39 Republic.
An estimated 700,000 to 1 million Spaniards died in and after the Spanish Civil War and despite a “liberation” of much of Europe in 1945, Spain remained under fascist rule until Franco finally kicked in 1975, paving the way for a transition period.
My first reaction when leaving the Karl Marx Theatre was that Pan’s Labyrinth was an appropriate beginning for a film festival in Havana and will be tough to top.