Lot of Interesting Titles

in 31st International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Furio Fossati

At the “31 Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano” (31st New Latin American Cinema International Festival) which took place in Havana from December 3rd to 13th, besides the feature length films, which were divided into two sections comprised of official films and debut works, the documentary had great importance as a genre in which Cuba always believed and one that teaches as few others do in its filmmaking schools.

A lot of interesting titles, too many to mention.

Hanna Schygulla with “Alicia Bustamante” paid tribute to one of the greatest actresses of Cuban cinema, television and theatre, with a feature film of great value and shot with love but also with the care to follow her true history. Hanna wrote its screenplay and is director, cinematographer, editor, producer and sound engineer. Her performances in Europe, her plays as a comic actor in almost always improvised tv shows, her will to teach with a smile to a younger audience… Schygulla artfully portrays an incredible character as “spontaneous creations of her talent to depict nature of people and situations, and to transform life in comedy the comedy of the art of living”.

An homage committed to young filmmakers was dedicated to ICAIC (Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos –Cuban Institute of Cinema Art and Industry ) “Dentro de 50 años” ( Within 50 years). During several interviews, many of the founders report their experiences to these young beginners coordinated by the director Jorge Luis Sanchez. This movie is divided into four parts: animation (surely the best chapter), production, audience and documentary films.

Connected to this feature film is a brilliant documentary made by one of the veterans of Cuban filmmaking, Gloria Eulalia Argüelles Botella (known by everybody simply as Yoyita), about the importance of Restituto Fernandez and his Tuto workshops. With bare means at his disposal, he helped ICAIC a lot in starting up its mission, and also worked with the greatest American authors. It was said that he used to taste with a finger the developing fluid to understand if it had the right composition. “Una historia en blanco y negro”  (a story in black and white) is a great tribute to a little known man but, above all, a brilliant example of how a documentary film should be made.

A lot of expectation for the presentation of the feature film “Che, un hombre nuevo” (Che, a new man) made in 14 years, 10 of which involved filming around south and middle America, by the Argentinian director Tristán Bauer. Alfredo Guevara defined it as the only movie that really tells the true history of the Che, made not only of guerrilla action but also of study, social care and great work in international politics to obtain the acknowledgement of Fidel Castro’s government. His appearance at the UN persisted throughout history, with his unforgettable skill as a middleman, able to obtain commercial collaboration from countries which didn’t always have friendly relations.

Alfredo Guevara has nothing against former movies (“Che was a public character, a myth and every filmmaker depicted an interesting aspect, not necessarily his vital trait. Steven Soderbergh was also clever, even if many things remain untold, “Diarios de motocicleta” (The Motorbike Diaries ) followed Che’s 1952 motorbike trip, but here Che is the man, in every photogram, with his voice, his writing, with his unpublished images and papers”).

You can see Che as a child in incredibly well preserved shootings, his passion for rugby and many other sports, his will to know his homeland better doing a 4000 km bike trip – accurately and poetically reported in his notebooks – and two motorbike trips, the first when he was a student in Medicine and the last when he was already a doctor; his wish to be useful to the weak, to make the ideal of freedom spring within people.

It’s never a hagiographical movie, more a simple story from which we learn little by little the character who was already mythologised in his thirties.

Ernesto Guevara was a source of inspiration for many Latin American documentary filmmakers of the last thirty years, and for fiction authors, too, just like the Brazilian Walter Salles and Soderbergh. It is difficult to find a new reading key for a man of such an eclectic personality, but Bauer, helped by almost all of Latin America, with this movie, coproduced with Cuba, likely succeeded in the creation of the “definitive” documentary about Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (this according to Cuba that counts).

His voice recordings are wonderful; when he reports his ideas, when he sends loving words to his four sons from his wife and fellow in arms Hilda Gadea, his last visit to them made in disguise (he was a wanted man in too many governments) as a friend of the family, his delusion for the unsuccessful involvement of Bolivian people in the first and most important revolution to wake Latin America from its atavistic apathy.

Director Tristan Bauer worked as a photographer for Miguel Littin e Estela Bravo, and as an author of short films and television shows, was the founder of the group Testimonianza film (Testimony Film) (which aims to define the real image of his country through films  until he made his adventure in fiction in 1990 with “Después de la tormenta” ( After the Storm), a portrait of a middle class family crushed by the economic crisis. He comes back later to documentaries in 1999 between realism and fiction with “Los libros y la noche” (Books and night), where he creates a poetic depiction in documentary about biographical sketches and a work from one of the greatest writers in Spanish: Jorge Luis Borges. He dealt also with Evita Peron and pacifist subjects.

Bauer approaches the documentary about Che Guevara with a subtle sense of observation and a high sense of drama; he depicts the path of the life of a man also in conflict with himself. It seemed impossible to find unpublished issues in Guevara’s biography, but Bauer succeeded in portraying the human being beyond the epic character; the loving child with his family, the poet and storyteller, the clever photographer. This documentary tries to summarize and narrate Che, the new man, in his quiet and intimate family life, in his moments of doubt, fear, joy, hope, in private and family spaces. The choice of a strong narrating voice, that never shows emotions in what it is telling, is successful. Committed to never let down trust in truth and political consistency, the filmmaker tells the story of not only the hero, but of the new man.

For the first time, permission to unravel Bolivian government secret files was given (It was a great emotion to be able to read notebooks that were never seen until now).

It also involves Vietnam, the impossible relations with the USA, bombing and the attempt to destabilize Cuban politics and economy destroying industries.

Apart from the value in what he tells, Bauer’s movie is also a pleasant, well-shaped work, capable of creating interest for those who know little or have little interest in the character of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, better known with his nom de guerre, Che.

Edited by Tara Judah