28th Havana International Festival of the New Latinamerican Cinema

Cuba, December 5 - December 15 2006

The jury

Klaus Eder (Germany), Alvaro Sanjurjo Toucón (Uruguay), Francisco Ferreira (Portugal), Dominique Martinez (France)

Awarded films

Havana, the ’50s. In his first feature-length film, The Silly Age (La edad de la peseta), young Cuban director Pavel Giroud conjures up the atmosphere in the city before the revolution. It’s a nostalgic coming-of-age movie that captures the charm of the fashions, the (American) cars, the colors, and the sound of the period, as well as the ubiquitous colonial architecture.

Havana, today. You still feel the charm of the ’50s. Some of the large American sedans are still around. Restored Habana Vieja, the Old City, has become a tourist attraction, as have the beaches. Tourism is today one of the main sources of income.

Only not for U.S. citizens (except for the few who get special licenses, such as religious ones). The Bush administration prohibits them by law to put their feet on Cuban soil. What nonsense. Film critics wanting to get an update on the state of affairs of Latin American cinema have to undertake adventurous detours to get here (and it’s only a few miles to Key West and Miami).

It’s astonishing, even admirable, that, under the circumstances, in a poor country isolated on account of international politics, the festival continues to offer a meeting place for Latin American cinemas and filmmakers — and when the financial situation is worsening. There were few brand new films — these were mainly Cuban — but fest director Ivan Giroud and his team selected a nice overview of recent films, including Rodrigo Moreno’s The Minder (El Custodio)(premiered in Berlin), Karim Ainouz’ Suely in the Sky (O ceu de Suely)(Venice), The Road to San Diego (El camino de San Diego), by Carlos Sorin (San Sebastian), and Pablo Trapero’s Born and Bred (Nacido y criado)(Toronto). A good opportunity to catch up with the 2006 production of Latin America.

But that’s only one point of view. The other is that the festival allows Cubans to see films which they wouldn’t have the chance to see otherwise. Queues everywhere, at 18 venues spread around the city. Mind you, they are not lined up for Hollywood bestsellers, but rather for Latin American cinema. It’s probably true what you were told, that many film lovers save some money and take two weeks off to see as many films as possible. (Ticket prices are extremely low, so that culture should be accessible to everyone.) The enthusiasm for cinema is not only in the city: A selection of films was shown in Matanzas province and city two hours away. Dedicated cultural workers in the region prepared the event and enticed the local public.

The film school in San Antonio de los Banos was founded 20 years ago as an initiative supported by “The Foundation of New Latin American Cinema” and its mentor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who attended this year’s festival), as well as by the Cuban government. (I remember a long speech by Fidel Castro.) Under its first director, Fernando Birri, and his successors Orlando Senna and Julio García Espinosa, the school has educated generations of young talent from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Carribean. The guests at this year’s festival were invited to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the school which is one of the best in Latin America. One of its graduates, by the way, is Pavel Giroud.(Klaus Eder)