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Film Buffs in Cuba

Film Buffs in Cuba

by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

One of the most pleasant memories from my childhood has to do with the inerasable magic of discovering the cinemas in Havana. As I grew up, the possibilities of finding new, unique auditoriums also grew and expanded. I refer to the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, a time when Havana’s neighborhood movie houses were in their heyday. Nowadays, most of them have disappeared or now perform other functions and we who remember those great years are overcome with profound nostalgia.

I was born on an island where the passion for movies dates back to the inception of the art form. Havana became the Latin American capital which had the most cinemas. Those of us who were born later have inherited that taste of confusing our realities with those events occurring on the big screen.

The spread of the movies in Cuba has gone through different stages which have created diverse audiences. Some spectators not only admire films for their plots but they can go on in great detail about the musical scores, photography and, especially, the performances of the actors. Each one has their favorite Cuban or international actors and actresses and they are able to defend their talents with a surprising array of opinions.

The great number of cinemas existing in the capital made it possible to create a varied and extensive circuit that was enjoyed by movie lovers. There would be several premieres every week and festivals would also screen the best from all the different film genres.

It also became traditional to have weeks dedicated to the movies from other countries that have rich cinematographic traditions such as France, Italy, Spain or Germany. It was a perfect way for Cubans to keep up-to-date on all the recent productions. At the same time, it was serious business to make sure that audiences were well-versed in the history of the cinema; that fact contributed greatly to forming a demanding audience.

For people living in Havana, going to the movies would be the best way to have an exceptional night out. Afterwards, there would be other options, like going to a restaurant, getting ice cream at Coppelia ice-cream parlor or going to a party, but the movie would dominate the evening. It was almost a mortal sin not to see a new movie on time, something left to the stragglers.

On weekends, attendance at the cinemas was more numerous partially because many youths and teenagers at that time were in residences at school during the week and from Friday to Sunday they would be back home. Those days would be reserved for having fun, and going to the movies was the preferred entertainment.

In fact, becoming a film buff and never giving that up is an experience that enriches your life. Many Cubans take advantage of the fact that it isn’t very expensive to go to the movies and over the years cinematographic productions have been treated very seriously in Cuba.

Nonetheless, we are rather unique film buffs. First, the phenomenon is part of an effort to encourage the domestic film industry. And then the tremendous closeness to the best of Eastern European cinema (Soviet, Hungarian, Polish) and later the creation of the Festival for New Latin American Cinema of Havana represented another way of seeing and making movies. At the same time, this gave us the possibility of better understanding the continent on which we live in terms of its social, historical and cultural aspects.

On the other hand, the creation and consolidation of the Cinemateca de Cuba has contributed to guiding the tastes of our audiences towards products from other film industries. It has been headed by prestigious intellectuals who have been anxious to promote salvaging and divulging the best of world cinema.

I am proud to be able to say that I have been going to the New Latin American Cinema Festival since it started in Havana. The emblematic Chaplin Theater, headquarters for the Cinemateca de Cuba, is one of the most familiar places in town for me.

Like many other film buffs, I have seen life becoming much more complicated lately and so sometimes we don’t have much time to go to the movies. New technologies have presented us with alternative ways to continue enjoying films and often we run out of GB on our storage systems. Nevertheless, the magic world of the darkened theater and the silver screen is still enthralling and no matter how fast the pace of modern life is, the thrill of the cinema has not waned.