With over 350 competing films and many more non-competing, the XVII International Festival of New Latin American Cinema came to a close in Havana on December 15, with the traditional awards ceremony at the Karl Marx theater.
More than 1,500 participants from all over the world attended the huge filled-to-capacity theaters of Havana with perennial lines at their doors. Films were also exhibited throughout the country, as is customary in Cuba. Cubans are big movie fans, and many take their vacations during the film festival in December, to be able to attend it.
A plethora of Latin American films which we never get to see either in Denver or in most of the U..S premiered in Havana. There was a wealth of art in every category: direction, photography, performance, subject matter, script, editing, etc. Creativity seems to be endless, and it is a pleasure to behold.
But what's most important is that these films are real art, dealing with reality and with social issues, be it indigenous rights to the land, or women's lives in a man's world, or modern bourgeois youth without an identity, lost in contemporary anomie, or the dilemma and guilt facing survivors in a nation which killed thousands during dictatorships, or the horror of living with AIDS. Some films just dealt with the human dilemma in the modern world, with love and despair and loneliness.
There were fiction and documentary films, long and short, animation, and videos.
The first prize in the fiction category was awarded to Jorge Fons' El Callejon de los Milagros (Miracle Alley), from Mexico. Second prize to Tomas Gutierrez Alea Juan Carlos Tabio (Cuba) for the film Guantanamera, and third prize to Carlos Carrera's Sin Remitente (No Return Address) also from Mexico.
Best Photography Award was received by Henner Hoffman for his work in Jonas y la Ballena Rosada (Jonas and the Pink Whale) from Bolivia, and Vicente Lenero of Mexico received the award to best script for the film El Callejon de los Milagros.
The US was also represented, although not officially, with films like Malcolm X, Wrestling Hemingway and Imaginary Crimes, while representatives from the Sundance Institute attended the festival.
Cuba also brought to the Festival a humorous trilogy: Quiereme y Veras, (Love me and you'll See), by Daniel Garcia Torres, Melodrama, and Pon tu Pensamiento en Mi, (Think about Me) by Arturo Soto Diaz. Cuba had also many films in the non-fiction and animation categories, getting the special mention for the documentary Cuerdas de mi Ciudad (Strings of my City), by Mayra Vilasis and first prize in animation for Filminuto #20 by Tulio Raggi. The Filminutos were short excellent humorous pieces where the main principle of humor (break the stereotype) was used to perfection.
Best Film about a Latin American theme by a Non-Latin American filmmaker was Speaking with the Enemy, a Swedish production by Nitza Kakoseos.
Many of the films dealt with Indigenous issues, such as Argentina's excellent production La Nave de los Locos (Ship of Fools) by Ricardo Wullicher, which won two prices, the OCIC Award, and the Popularity Award, and El Largo Viaje de Nahuel Pan (The Long Journey of Nahuel Pan) by Zuhair Jury, and Bolivia's Para Recibir el Canto de los Pajaros (To Receive the Birds' Songs), by Jorge Sanjines and with Geraldine Chaplin in the main role.
Mexico's Mujeres Insumisas (Rebellious Women) by Alberto Isaac is an excellent testimony to women's freedom (or lack of it).
The Festival had a retrospective in honor of the late Argentine filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg with films such as Camila, De Eso no se Habla, Senora de Nadie, and her latest, Yo, la Peor de Todas (I, the Worst One), about the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, known in Mexico as the "Tenth Muse."
Italian, Spanish, Canadian and U.S. films also had a big role to play in the festival.
Famous filmmakers like Gino Pontecorvo attended the festival, who announced, among other things, that the life of Che is being recreated for the big screen by the Argentinean Luis Puenzo with a script by Hector Scola, the famous Italian filmmaker.
Klaus Maria Brandauer came to Havana and brought with him his latest film: Mario and the Magician, and there was also a series of films from Quebec, Canada. American filmmaker Rudi Stern presented his film Haiti: Golpe de Gracia?, and Robert Redford's Quiz Show also drew a big crowd.
The health of Latin American cinema, which seemed to be decaying in the last years, has started to recover. Co- productions with wealthier European nations helped to pick it up considerably and the quality of these films this year was remarkable.
There are not new Bunuels or Fellinis, as yet, but most of the filmmakers presenting entries in Havana this year were young and talented and there is a lot of promise ahead. I just wish we could see this promise in the United States.
All in all, the Havana Film Festival this year was a big success, drawing the biggest crowd ever from all over the world and bringing the best cinema in the world today.
-- Maria Montelibre
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