After a two-year break, Cuba’s ‘poor man’s’ film festival is back. Founded by Cuban filmmaker Humberto Solas, the festival is traditionally held in the sleepy fishing village of Gibrara that wakes up for a week in April to become a hotbed of alternative, low-budget filmmakers. They may not have Hollywood stars and camera-wielding paparazzi, glamorous red carpet photo shoots and posh after-parties, but if hip and retro is your thing this is as good as it gets in the Cuban film scene.
Authentic, charming and off-the-beaten track, Gibara is a town so obscure even many Cubans struggle to find it on a map. Yet from 2003 to 2011, this picturesque town hosted one of the most authentic and charming events on the independent/alternative film circuit. Alongside the competition that awards prizes for fiction and documentary films, there are also meetings, concerts, recitals and art exhibitions. The festival guarantees a broad range of approaches and topics, aspiring to become an alternative to commercial filmmaking -promoting artistic quality with production costs kept to a minimum.
Limited in the number of films that may be shown, the selection committee spends much of the year deciding on (and sometimes the next year’s selection. Juries selecting the winning films in each category (Fiction & Documentaries) are well- known and respected artists, critics and film directors. While there is a top prize of Euro 15,000 (largely intended to assist in the transition to 35mm), entrants are clearly not here for the money.
The cinema festival itself is a young one, not only because of the age of many of the participating filmmakers, but for the general spirit. Former festival director, Sergio Benvenuto, points out that the event provides an outlet for films which are not handicapped by the conservatism of big studios, nor restricted by the need to secure instant commercial success. This promotes the expression of artistic purpose, which doesn’t originate with how best to market, sponsor and product link films.
The choice of Gibara as the principal venue has certainly made the organisers job that much harder. The town is a hefty 800-kilometre trek from Havana and an hour’s drive along poor roads from both Holguín (which boasts an international airport) and the pristine beaches of Guardalavaca (home to many all-inclusive resorts). Moreover, Gibara, has no hotel and a limited number of private rooms (which are booked up early for Cine Pobre week). Yet in many ways, this remoteness gives this event its intimate, authentic and unique charm.
The town itself was declared a National Monument in 2004 and is near where Christopher Columbus first set foot on Cuban soil. Perfect hosts, it is the fiercely proud Gibararians who provide much of the laid back and friendly ambience that draws visitors, filmmakers, actors, musicians, photographers, critics and artists. So don’t let the remoteness of the location dissuade you, if you’re into cinema festivals, this is the event of the year not to miss!