With a very musical beginning, the 34th International New Latin American Film Festival was officially opened on December 3, 2012 at the Karl Marx Theater by the Festival’s president, Alfredo Guevara. In his welcoming speech, characterized by his somewhat cryptic personal style and in which the most repeated words were “diversity” and “choice,” Guevara confirmed his faith in the proposals of the new generations of filmmakers.
To the surprise of some people, Guevara, closed his speech by referring to the 34 years of the festival, and the 43 of the most popular Cuban band: Los Van Van, who was in charge of the traditional musical part of the opening ceremony. The “locomotive,” as the band led by Juan Formell is usually called, was joined by the Argentinean rock icon, Fito Páez, who the next day gave a concert to a full house in the same theater, the largest in the city. Van Van and Páez led the way for the film chosen to open the winter engagement of Latin American cinema. Strangely enough, it was not a fiction film, but a documentary by the Spanish filmmaker Nico García: Silvio Rodriguez. Ojalá, dedicated to the emblematic Cuban trovador.
A few hours before the opening, endless lines were formed at the doors of the main theaters in Havana with different kinds of Cuban moviegoers. There’s the kind that expects to see over 500 films in ten days, starting out early in the morning for the first showings, running from theater to theater throughout the day and night and only coming back home after the last show, usually after midnight. Others study the film guide as if it were a scientific paper and compare reviews, the results of prior festivals etc, trying to play it safe and not take risks with unknown movies. Some moviegoers follow the critics’ opinions to the letter, while others rush to see the films that have been reviled and avoid the ones that have been recommended by experts.
For almost two weeks, the usual baseball discussions are replaced with debates on cinema and everyone becomes a juror who passionately defends their predictions on potential winners.
As always, Argentinean, Brazilian, Mexican and Cuban films aroused the greatest interest; however, Chilean cinema began to gradually take the place of the traditional favorites when Pablo Larraín’s film No succeeded in tipping the scales in its favor. The film, which deals with a political event–the plebiscite that ended 15 years of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet–is treated with smoothness, efficiency and a balanced amount of elements from commercial films, and is supported by a solid script and a convincing performance by the charismatic Mexican actor Gael García.
Less popular but of unquestionable beauty and depth, and also with an impressive performance by its protagonist, Francisca Gavilán, is Violeta se fue a los cielos by Andrés Wood. The film goes beyond the biopic in its recreation of the life of the great Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra.
Among Cuban films, one that stands out is Melaza, by the young filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, which explores a drama that has been given little attention in Cuban art: the closure of half of the existing sugar mills on the island and its impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. Commendable performance by Yuliet Cruz.
Another film, La película de Ana, by veteran filmmaker Daniel Diaz Torres, also aroused excitement because it had the elements for it: a good script, a a star-studded cast led by the superb Laura de la Uz, and a bold theme–an actress, who has become the filmmaker of a documentary on prostitution, includes herself in the cast.
The two great disappointments were Se vende, by Jorge Perugorría, who seemed too much determined on tickling the viewer to provoke their laughter at all costs, and Irremediablemente juntos, which, in my opinion, should have not even competed.
In the category of animated films, which is always overshadowed by feature films, La luna en el jardín, is a short but exquisite Cuban animated film based on passages from the novel Jardín, by Dulce Maria Loynaz.
One favorite moment with the public during the festival is comparing their preferences with the jury’s decisions. This time, however, there were no great surprises and, in general, the winning films were backed by previous prizes. The film, No, which had been successful at the Cannes Film Festival this year and is the Chilean choice for the Oscar to Best Foreign Film, won 1st Coral Prize and the SIGNIS award, plus other collateral prizes given by the Cuban Association of Film Press and the Glauber Mention.
The 2nd Coral Prize went to Violeta se fue a los cielos, also winner of the Coral for Art Direction and the Glauber Rocha Prize plus prizes from the Prensa Latina News Agency and UNEAC.
The 3rd Coral Prize went to Febre do rato, a Brazilian film by Cláudio Assis, yet the film went almost unnoticed in Havana’s movie theaters.
La película de Ana received the Coral Prizes for Best Script and Best Actress (Laura de la Uz), as well as a prize from the Cuban Union of Journalists. It also received a distribution prize from Amazonia Films.
Días de pesca obtained the Special Prize of the Jury and the Cibervoto Prize from the Foundation of New Latin American Cinema, while Melaza received the El Mégano Prize from the National Federation of Film Clubs.
Rather unfortunately in my opinion, the film Se vende received the Popularity Prize. Clerarly, tastes are indecipherable.
The number of co-productions among the winning films and the growing trend to co-produce among Latin American countries is striking.
The film festival is over and leaves us longing for good movies that are so hard to see in Havana the rest of the year. But, fortunately, in this hectic December, the Jazz Plaza Festival comes to comfort us.