Background & history:
During the first two weeks of December, a virulent plague takes hold of Havana. Immunization is impossible and there´s no option but to surrender. The consolation is that there are so many fellow-sufferers with whom to compare notes on symptoms, cures and pulling extended sickies from work. Employers are not inclined to be sympathetic to doctor´s certificates for Cinemania Febril Virulans, or to give it its common name, Film Fever.
The Havana Film Festival is a Cuban festival that focuses on the promotion of Spanish-language filmmakers. It is also known in Spanish as Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano de La Habana, and in English as Festival of New Latinamerican Cinema of La Havana. The first festival took place on 3 December 1979. The president of the first organizing committee was Alfredo Guevara and more than 600 film directors of Latin America responded to the first call made by the Cuban Institute of the Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). Millions of film buffs across Cuba attend the event that has served as a launch pad for Latin American cinematography and become one of the leading film festivals of the region. The variety and creativity of films shown at the Havana Film Festival every year has attracted celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Pedro Almodóvar, Francis Ford Coppola, Carlos Saura, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Robert de Niro, Jack Lemmon, Gregory Peck, and Danny Glover, among many others
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 López-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 this year was her third visit to the Island 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. This year, one of those films, “Vinci,” based on an incident in Leonardo da Vinci’s life, and directed by Eduardo del Llano, was 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 being left out in the competition, the truth is that everybody wanted to see the film and find out what the fuss is all about.
Apart from the competition, the festival included 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 cinema 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.