Latin America Film Festival in Havana: building cinema love: Interview with Ivan Giroud



Latin America in Havana or building cinema love amongst everyone

It is not easy to tell the story of 40 years in just an hour. However, Iván Giroud, president of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, attempted it. He remembered how dazzled he was when he discovered this Festival in only its second year as a spectator, when it was still a small event, and how when he started working on it, in its 10th year, he saw it in a different way.

How do you see it now, how do you approach it?

Ever since then up to today, when you take on the challenge of organizing a cultural event of so much social importance, you also have to deal with the changes experienced by the whole world, in technology and communications.

The Festival team sets to work at the beginning of each year because we have a very big responsibility: we must fulfill the expectations that are generated around an event like this, with internationally recognised prestige. Remember also the presence of Fidel at the first festival that, undeniably, boosted the size of the event, which is difficult to sustain.

In the beginning the Film Festival extended across the whole country; but now it does not have that scale …

The history of cinema also reflects the history of technological changes and this puts us in a complex practical situation. Cinema is no longer analogue but digital, and not all cinemas in the country have the necessary technology.

The festival is now concentrated in the capital, unfortunately, without forgetting the praiseworthy effort that the critic Juan Antonio García Borrego promotes in Camagüey, but that is a very particular experience. In reality, the provinces have lagged far behind in this regard, and not only as regards the Film Festival. The alternative has been to take to the provinces the films of the previous year’s festival, already in Blu-Ray format, to enable them to show those films.

As it is known at the popular level then, it is a Havana Film Festival.

Honestly, I do not want it to be a Havana Film Festival and in fact it is not even an event that reaches every corner of this city, which could be seen as a weakness; but it is not up to us – it depends on issues relating to the infrastructure of the cinemas, which has also deteriorated.

Also, and I think it’s the most important thing, this Festival is about Latin American cinema, even if it takes place in Cuba. 40 years ago, Havana was a vital meeting point, when there were not as many spaces as now. Havana is still a place of resistance and filmmakers, when they visit us, are not only Argentines, Chileans or Mexicans, but Latin Americans. Cuba is just one more country that participates in the show, because although it acts as host, the Festival’s presentation continues to be Latin American.

Consumption models globally have changed, and cinema is no exception.

These new models imply that many prefer to watch films at home, and this shows a certain autonomy of the viewer, who decides what to see, when and where. Social networks are also essential because younger people do not watch television, do not read newspapers, hardly listen to radio.

The public changed and the key is, whatever the media including cinema, in the selection, in the curatorship … We know that there is a need to coexist with other alternatives and, therefore, we have to look for quality.

Currently, society does not expect to be filmed, because each citizen has their own means to film and share it later. It is a different world that drives us to try to attract this new generation, which does not have the same cultural habits we had developed, and they must discover the wonder of watching a movie in a movie theatre and not in a computer.

An event like this Festival offers an exclusive opportunity to see the work; but it also offers the possibility of sharing with its creator, its actors, its producers and, of course, building the cinema love amongst everyone, listening to the views of whoever is in the next seat, behind, in front.

The most difficult part of the Festival is the selection of works?

Without a doubt. A festival has to choose. Each creator defends his work and that is legitimate, but the organizers of the event must ensure balance in the curatorship. The different tendencies must be represented, the variety of genres and countries, without neglecting quality. It is complex because the regional cinema has grown and we now see countries such as the Dominican Republic, Chile and Uruguay, which did not have a significant presence years ago and which have recently made excellent films.

The Festival also has to confront the fact that some things are beyond our control. We work with what has been produced, we do not produce the films that we would like to exhibit. We try to find the best, but that does not only depend on us. Sometimes Cuban cinema has produced more films, sometimes not. On this occasion, for example, Cuba will present seven fiction feature films, in different categories, which is something very positive. This year’s festival will enjoy a high level of Cuban cinema.

Surprisingly, we will have several films competing with each other in the Animation category, which we thought was in danger of extinction after there were so few presented in 2017. Last year we were surprised by the presence of women in different roles in the cinematographic field; that is a significant sign in Latin America that is maintained now. We also discovered in documentary cinema the interest to work from the self-referential, using personal or family footage and images to tell great stories. So we have the ‘Family’ section, to promote reflection on the family and its relationship in society. For us it is also essential to do surveys during the Festival, to help us plan and work in areas that we may be neglecting or in elements that we just can’t see. We are interested in how the festival is seen and how we reach different sectors of the public. Some things have a solution and others do not, but it is always good to know.

What will the 40th Festival bring?

We wanted the 40th anniversary not to be just these days of the Festival. So we put together a program of films from past festivals in the Multicine Infanta, which started in September. From December 6 to 16 we will show recent film successes, although we will also offer a cycle of restored Latin American classics, such as the Argentinian ‘The official story’ , ‘The King’s Movie’ and ‘The Dark Side of the Heart’, among other films which have marked the history of Latin American cinema over the last 40 years. This year will be dedicated to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Titón), the internationally renowned Cuban filmmaker, and we have three moments to honour him. One of them is an exhibition at the main venue of the Festival, on 19 and 2, in Vedado, the second is a colloquium, on December 8 and 9, to discuss and reflect on Alea’s work, with professors from various universities in Europe, the United States and Cuba. That will be the first step towards a future publication, which brings together all these presentations. We will also screen his most emblematic films, such as ‘Memories of Underdevelopment’, the recently restored cine version, now that 50 years have passed since it was first screened. On December 11, to mark Alea’s birthday, we will present ‘Fresa y Chocolate’, a film that has forged an impressive course in the history of our cinema and our society. This Festival will also give a tribute to Fernando Birri, one of the patriarchs of the Latin American cinema and founding director of the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School (near Havana), who died at the end of 2017. We will screen a documentary about his life and the restored copy of ‘A very old man with enormous wings’, which opened the 10th Festival.

There will also be a theoretical event held on December 7, to reflect on the Festival, its four decades of experience and the challenges it faces in a very different regional scenario. There will be a presentation of ICAIC books and the Festival’s magazine, a classic of Mexican cinema will be screened with a soundtrack by the outstanding composer and conductor Silvest Revueltas, which will be performed live by the Orquesta del Liceo Mozartiano de La Habana.

Translated from Spanish by Cuba50