Representing Cuban film in the official selection for the 39th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema are two feature-length productions, two documentaries, one short and one animation, while the general program features 40 works from the island.
Although the competition features fewer Cuban films than last time, Ivan Giroud, president of the Festival noted that “There are currently several Cuban films in production and post-production, which will surely have their space next year,” when the Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary.
To recap, the 2016 official selection included two Cuban films in the Debut Film category with Esteban by Jonal Cosculluela, and El techo by Patricia Ramos; three feature-length productions: Últimos días en La Habana by Fernando Pérez, winner of the Special Jury Prize; Sharing Stella by Enrique Álvarez, and Lester Hamlet’s Ya no es antes, for which Luis Alberto García received the prize for Best Male Performance.
Speaking during the first press conference on the Cuban selection, Giroud noted that “It’s true that the Festival takes place in Cuba and is the moment for the island to present its productions. However, only the best Cuban films, just like only the best films from Latin America, feature in the competition.”In this sense he went on to announce that Cuban works nominated in the Feature-length Film category of this 39th edition of the festival include: Sergio & Serguéi,directed and written by Ernesto Daranas (Los dioses rotos, Conducta, 2014 Coral Prize) andLos buenos demonios by Gerardo Chijona (Adorables mentiras; Esther en alguna parte; La cosa humana).
Sergio & Serguéi, a co-production by Mediapro, RTV Comercial and the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), in association with Wing and Prayer Pictures and Westend Films, is a story that takes places in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and onset of the Special Period in Cuba.
Sergio, played by Tomás Cao, is an amateur radio enthusiast and professor of Marxism who is forced to re-think his life, while Serguéi (Héctor Noas) is the last soviet astronaut on a practically forgotten faulty space station named Mir.
Daranas noted that “Sergio & Serguei is basically a comedy; it’s more a story of friendship and self-esteem than history and politics.”
Meanwhile, renowned director Gerardo Chijona’s new film Los buenos demonios, takes to the big screen the last script written by Daniel Díaz Torres – who passed away before the film was completed – and Alejandro Hernández, a graduate from the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School.
During his life, Daniel Díaz Torres (1948 – 2013) directed some 16 films, including Jíbaro (1985), Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas (1991), Hacerse el sueco (2001), Camino al Edén (2007), Lisanka (2010) and La película de Ana (2012).
According to the director Chijona, the film presents a vision of Cuba today and is “A de-dramatized drama like the ones being made now, featuring three generations of Cubans from the early days of the Revolution; the middle period and those born in the Special Period, who all live together.”
Taking on the lead roles in Los buenos demonios are Carlos Enrique Almirante, Vladimir Cruz, Isabel Santos (who starred in Chijona’s debut film Adorables mentiras), and Enrique Molina. What is more, a few years ago Isabel Santos, one of the most revered actresses in Cuban cinema (Clandestinos, La pared de las palabras, both by Fernando Pérez), decided to get behind the camera to make documentary films (San Ernesto nace en la Higuera, 2006, andViaje al país que ya no existe, 2014).
This year she has managed to be included in the official competition with La Gloria City, which centers on interviews with Cuban essayist and author Enrique Cirules (1938-2016) about two of his books: Conversación con el último norteamericano, a non-fiction novel which looks back at the founding, by U.S. citizens, of Gloria City on the northern coast of Camagüey, some 500 kilometers east of Havana, and its subsequent development and eventual decline; as well as his second novel, La saga de la Gloria City.
Interestingly, in an appearance on the Cuban talk-show Con 2 que se quieran, hosted by singer-songwriter Amaury Pérez, Isabel Santos stated that “My grandparents on my father’s side are from Jarahueca in Santa Clara and La Gloria on my mother’s side.”
Although the actress/director was not in Cuba at the time of writing this article, and thus could not confirm, it is safe to assume that this played an important part in choosing the theme for her third documentary.
The second, and yet to be seen, documentary in the competition is El Proyecto with a running time of 60 minutes and directed by Alejandro Alonso, whose other works include Evocación and La despedida, both of which were presented during the ICAIC Young Directors Showcase.
Meanwhile, nominated in the category of Mid-length Films and Shorts is 25 horas, by directorCarlos Barba (Humberto, 2014), responsible for the script, artistic direction, and production, with cinematography by Rafael Solís (Esther en alguna partehistoria, Vestido de novia).
The story revolves around a woman – played by Isabel Santos – who returns to Cuba to take care of her sick father (surprisingly played by the director of Bella del Alhambra, 1989, and 2006 National Film Prize winner Enrique Pineda Barnet), where the day seems to last more than 24 hours. According to the film’s synopsis everything takes place on December 17, the historic day on which Cuba and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations.
Meanwhile, a Cuban film also features among nominees in the Animation category, which Festival President Ivan Giroud described as generally disappointing, with only 16 works.
The picture, Los dos principles, by directors Adanoe Lima and Yemelí Cruz, is loosely based on by a poem of the same name by Cuban National Hero José Martí, inspired by a work by U.S. poet Helen Hunt Jackson, and published in the magazine La Edad de Oro.
Just like in their most recent award winning short La Luna en el jardín, the new film by Lima and Cruz was made at ICAIC’s Animation Studios, where the directors decided to use a mix of stop-motion and 3D animation for this 15 minute production.
Cuban films are also competing in the categories of Original Screenplay (three); Post-Production (one) and Posters (12), while the general program features 40 works from the island, according to Giroud.
With so many films to choose from, here are just a few titles which appear in sections such as “The Hour of the Short”: (El hormiguero, Alan González); Society (Mujeres… los poderes vitales del éxito, Lizette Vila, Ingrid León); “Culture” (¿Qué remedio? la parranda, Daniela Muñoz); “Cinematheque” (Manuela, el rostro rebelde del cine cubano, Manuel Jorge; Una leyenda costeña, Patricio Wood); “For All Ages”: (Selección natural, Víctor Alfonso); “Vanguard”: (Bliss, Francesca Maria Svampa); and “After Hours” (Criaturas, Francisco Cevallos).
Although there aren’t as many Cuban films in the Official Competition as there are in the general program, there is no doubt that all the works provide a panorama of the diverse proposals being offered by the island’s filmmakers today.