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With the start of the Havana Latin American Film Festival in December, those who throughout the year have hardly—or never—set foot in one of the very few movie theatres that are worth going to (a significant number of theatres have been closed down due to construction problems while others are in a sorry state), and prefer to stay at home and enjoy film rentals, practically take every movie house by storm. They search high and low for the most up-to-date listings, whether online, in the newspapers, on billboards outside theatres, or through the grapevine. But, whatever the vehicle, one thing is certain—cinemas are packed full during the festival.
The Karl Marx Theatre was the venue chosen this year for the festival?s opening ceremony, and as always, was packed full. After the opening speech by Alfredo Guevara, director of the festival, and performances by Harold L?pez-Nussa and his small jazz band accompanied by El Solar de los Seis, a folkloric music ensemble, the Argentinean actor of Chinese origin Huang Sheng Huang went on to the stage to present the competing film ?Un cuento chino,? which he co-stars. The lights went out and the silver screen was suddenly filled with moving images: The Festival had begun.
The Havana Film Festival holds many attractions for the public, including the presence of favourite stars, such as Patricia Pillar from Brazil, who is well-known to Cubans not only because it?s her third visit to the Island (this year she is a member of the jury) but because of the many soap operas which she has starred in and which Cuban TV viewers have enjoyed so much.
The expectations surrounding certain Cuban films that were not admitted in the competition drive many people to the movies to see that ?special? film. One of those films, ?Vinci,? based on an incident in Leonardo da Vinci?s life, and directed by Eduardo del Llano, has been the subject of much commentary due to harsh differences between the festival?s directors and the Institute of Cuban Cinema (ICAIC). Whatever the reason for having been left out in the competition, the truth is that everybody wants to see the film and find out what the fuss is all about.
It is too early to make any predictions but some films are already getting much attention from the public. I can personally recommend ?Un cuento chino? (Marco Aurelio Award to Best Picture at the Rome Film Festival and the Fassbinder Award in Germany). It is a pleasant comedy, with excellent performances, subtle humour and humanism that deals with the subject of solitude, abandonment and the need to communicate. “Tropa de ?lite 2,? which deals with police corruption and the fight against crime, and is directed by Oscar-nominated Jos? Padilla from Brazil, was a box office hit in its country with a record attendance of over ten million viewers. ?Miss Bala,? directed by Gerardo Naranjo, and based on a true story in which a queen beauty is involved in drug trafficking, addresses a troubling reality: the spiral of violence in Mexico. Another film that will surely attract much public is “Todos tus muertos,? a film from Colombia, which won the Best Cinematography Award at the Sundance Festival. On the Cuban side, ?Juan de los muertos? is sure to attract moviegoers as it is Cuba?s first film about zombies. Alejandro Burgu?s?s film is a comedy set in a Havana filled with zombies that hunger for human flesh, and in which a scoundrel takes advantage of the situation to make money. Meanwhile, Habanastation, by Cuban director Ian Padr?n, is competing in the First Work category and seems to be a strong candidate for an award.
Apart from the competition, the festival includes a showcase of contemporary world cinema (German, French, Spanish, Serbian, and Polish, among other). For movie buffs, this part of the festival is as important as the competing films, as it is a unique opportunity to get in touch with such a comprehensive range of cinematographies from all over the world.
One thing is certain, baseball, the current soap operas, even the scarcity of products in Havana?s markets take second and even third place during the Havana Latin American Film Festival and for two whole weeks, the flicks take centre stage. December / 2011