It began quietly enough. I met with Maria Julia Antuna Acosta, the coordinator of international relations of EICTV, the international film school in Havana which is the most acclaimed international
film school of the world founded by Gabriel Garcia Marquez with this Nobel Prize money on land donated by Castro. EICTV is a three year film school hosting
students from all over the world where they are creating the possibility of creating companies of former students working together to create real
Iberoamerican cinema. The “real” University for cinema is University of the Arts, the subject of the 2012 documentary “Unfinished Spaces”. It is a four
year university with a faculty of cinema (along with a faculty of dance, of pictorial arts, architecture and plastic arts).
I spent the day into the evening with Luisa Crespo, my good friend and a board member of L.A.’s Latino Queer Festival and formerly of LALIFF. We are
celebrating her new freedom as she has just retired as Director of the Senate of the University of California at Irvine. She has not been back to Cuba
since 1975 when, as a student, she came with the Vinceremos Brigade to help build the newly liberated nation. We think it is a momentous occasion for that
and for other reasons we will explain later.
I was surprised at the quietness in the Hotel Nacional where the festival headquarters are. The usual cars and cabs parked in the driveway are gone and
certain passages in the hotel are blocked off. And the streets in front of the Nacional where our apartment is are very quiet as well, and all the
surrounding streets are filled with police. We were flattered to think it was all for the film festival, but it was not.
12:30 after changing money and picking up our festival newspaper, the only way to know which films are playing today and tomorrow, we proceeded to see the
Argentinian film about the mix and mixing of cultures taking place in an outdoor market in Buenos Aires. “ La Salada” directed by Juan Martín Hsu is a coproduction of Argentina and
Spain. It is a mosaic of experiences for new immigrants in Argentina. Three tales of people from different races who struggle with loneliness and
alienation during "La feria de La Salada" weave together to form a very moving and effective dramedy.
In 2013, the sixth year of the Havana Film Festival’s Works in Progress, the Post Production Award, Nuestra América Primera Copia an international
competition for films from Latin America and from Cuba went to four films: one from Argentina, “La Salada” which went on to premiere at
Toronto International Film Festival 2014 and then San Sebastian International Film Festival 2014; one from Chile, “Yo Soy Lorena”, also screening in the
Toronto International Film Festival 2014 and here in Havana; and two from Cuba – independent film, “Venezia” (“Venice”) which was also in
the Toronto International Film Festival 2014 and one ICAIC film, “Vestido de Novia” (“Wedding Dress”) both screening here as well.
At 3:00, after a soggy pizza in the café Frescas y Chocolate across from the Charlie Chaplin Theater, we went to see “ Los Hongos”, directed by Óscar Ruiz Navia, a
Colombia-Argentina-France-Germany coproduction being sold internationally by FiGa Films. This Colombian art house film was produced by Diana Bustamente’sBurning Blue (she is now director of Carthagena Film Festival) and Contravia Films. It was workshopped at the Cannes Cinefondation, funded by World Cinema Fund in Berlin. (30,000 €), Hubert Bals Fund,
Ibermedia and seemingly every other European fund that could contribute was beautifully shot in Cali, Colombia and starred two skateboarding, bike-riding
graffiti artists whose parents and grandparents you would want in your life. The film premiered in Toronto this year.
“Los Hongos” is beautiful to watch, engaging, funny and also eye-opening to the street culture which is actively engaged in Cali and in the affairs of the
world. However, it skirted the edge of “too much of a good thing”, that is, you could almost see the European marks of inspiration shaping the almost
gritty world of both poor, Christianized Afro-Colombians and bourgeous but bohemian, educated and left leaning whites living in Cali. The father of the
white boy, an art-school student gone rogue, was hyper-political, famous locally as a Neapolitan type singer.
Gustavo Ruiz, who played the father was in Havana and introduced the film. He is an elegant man who deservedly is proud of his work in this film. He
attended as many films as possible and while we were watching “El Cerrajero” (“The Lock Charmer”) directed by Natalia Smirnoff, we reintroduced ourselves and set up a time for an
Unfortunately we were unable to get into the next film at the Charlie Chaplin Theater, “Vestido de Novia”, a film which won last year’s Work in Progress Award
of Nuevas Miradas of EICTV. The huge lines around two blocks of people anxious to enter the 1,000 seat theater attest to the Cuban’s love of cinema.
Later that night, with our newfound friend, Kyle Walcott of Tobago, a 21 year old film student at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad + Tobago
whose short film, “Glass Bottom Boat”, screened as part of trinidad + tobago film festival‘s annual showcase of Caribbean films here, we had dinner in Castropol, one of the new
restaurants along the Malecon overlooking the Caribbean. Afterward we went to dance at Café Cantante and Casa de la Musica. However, because the next day
(Sunday) was Day of the Martyrs, dedicated to Antonio Maceo and other heroes who died fighting for freedom in Cuba, all entertainment stopped at midnight,
which allowed me to get to bed at a decent hour and actually get eight hours of sleep.
This morning we handled the stressful logistics of scheduling our time for the upcoming day and people-hunting at the Nacional, no easy task as few who are
not Cuban have cel tels that work here. I introduced Kyle to Anne Cross who comes from Scotland every year to find Cuban films to bring to the U.K. for her
Cuban film festival. Anne is the mother of Kyle’s colleague, Nicola Cross, a Trinidadian who works with the t+tff and teaches at the University of West
We three went off to see the Infanta Theater where Kyle’s “Glass Bottom Boat” will screen. Typical of Havana, there on the street, my friend Rolando
Almirante (one of Havana’s foremost documentary filmmakers) called to me. With him was Catherine Murphy of “Maestras” the doc about the teachers who went
after the Cuban Revolution to the countryside to teach literacy. They are both on the jury awarding a prize to films concerning violence against women or
its solutions. She invited us to go later that night to La Fabrica, a new art space opened by singer-composer X Alfonso’s parents of the group Sintesis to
hear a concert.
Later that afternoon we walked on to Callejon de Hamel, a street that looks like a combination of Watts Towers and Berlin’s Tacheles and where every Sunday
they have that special Cuban music called Rumba. There we found that because it was Antonio Maceos’ Day of the Martyrs, there would be no rumba there or at
Casa de la Musica later. I bought a small but beautiful lithograph called 100% Cuban by a local artist showing on “Jon de Hamel”. We had a Boringa
(rum drink) with two locals, talked and then walked home along the Malecon. At the statue of Antonio Maceo we watched local members of the Freemasons and
veterans place a memorial wreath. As we approached the Nacional from behind, we discovered limousines and chauffeurs from all the embassies along with a
cadre of police dressed in their best ceremonial uniforms quietly waiting while whatever was happening at the hotel continued…
Luisa and I grabbed a bite at the palador Los Amigos (palador is the name of restaurants which operated only semi-legally in earlier days but which are now
totally legal). After dinner we went to the Cuban Communist Youth Center, Pabellion Cuba, to see Natalia Smirnoff’s Lock Charmer (El Cerrajero) (ISA:
Memento), a lovely art film from Argentina which premiered at Sundance January 2014 and went on to screen in Cartagena Film Festival in March 2014 with
three other Argentine features, Natural Sciences (Ciencias Naturales) (ISA: Urban Distribution
International) after its Berlinale premiere and also showing here in Havana, The Color That Fell From Heaven (El Color que cayó del cielo
),and The Third Bank of the River (La tercera orilla) after
its Berlin premiere and which is showing here as well.
At 10 pm went to La Fabrica, a great art space in a former factory, next to a great palador inside the huge factory chimney itself. There we saw the
producer Rosa Bosch who has moved from Mexico to Cuba and her friends including a young producer whose short “The Malecon” we hope to catch. La Fabrica exhibits art, artist-inspired jewelry and other “objets”, like clothes made of recycled tabs that open cans or computer wires, designer chairs and
furniture. It has several patio bars and performing areas with great acoustics. In one area, we caught three short acts. One large (and gorgeous) man in a
small black and gold beaded dress, high heels and a cowboy hat sang a hot song as he posed and strutted. He was incredibly charismatic and enthralled me
with his grace alternating between gorgeous female and gorgeous male. – a true gender bender.
Next an elegant petit black woman in a small red dress sang
with great gusto a R&B spoof, going overboard with emotions and the tremor in her voice, exaggerated as she sang her lament. It was a hilarious well
done performance. Great entertainment is instantly understandable even though I could not understand the words being sung. And the feeling that “only in
Cuba” would someone create acts like these was also strong. The familiarity but at the same time the foreignness of Cuba and its people is a contradiction
we constantly experience here.
Later we listened to the concert given by the youngest daughter of the renowned balladeer, Pablo Milanese. Catherine was taken by surprise because she had
told us the songs were from her latest album, but what she actually was singing were songs Catherine’s own (ex) husband had written which were all about
Catherine and love and Catherine and divorce. What a magical world Cuba offers.
Day Two ended on that high note. Onward to tomorrow and more surprises.