ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Women take the Lead in Havana’s 39th Festival of New Latin American Cinema, December 8-17, 2017

 

Nastasha Jaramillo and Giovany Rodriguez in a scene from Colombian director Laura Mora’s drama Matar A Jesús (2017) which won two of the 39th Havana Film Festival’s most important prizes, awarded by the Glauber Rocha Foundation and Casa de las Américas.  Image: HabanaFilmFestival

In Colombian director Laura Mora’s second feature film, Matar A Jesús (Killing Jesus, 2017) there is an intensely moving scene where university student Paula is in a car driving home with father, a political science professor, and he is shot dead by a young assassin on a motorcycle.  A few weeks later, when she spots the young hit-man drunk at a dance club, she purposely meets him and begins methodically to enact a plan that involves buying a gun and getting revenge.  Her plan gets infinitely more complicated as she gets to know Jesús.  He even instructs her on how to shoot a gun—“Just aim with hate in your heart.”  The story was personal for Laura Mora whose own father was murdered before her eyes and who, like her heroine, later met his killer.  Instead of a straightforward tit-for-tat revenge story, Mora uses the plot to explore how Colombian society has failed its underclass.

This drama was one of dozens of powerful films directed by women at the 39th Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano or Havana Film Festival (December 8-17, 2017), where 34 percent or 38 of the 114 films that were officially competing this year were directed by females.  This festival’s top prize, the Coral for Best Feature Fiction, went to a woman as well—Argentinian director Anahí Berneri for her film Alanís, making this the third time in 39 years that a female director has won the top honor.  Twenty-five of the festival’s 34 awards went to women—directors, editors, scriptwriters, actors and artists.

The huge and diverse 10-day festival is one of Latin America’s most anticipated annual events, offering the best and latest in Cuban, Latin American and world film—roughly 404 features, documentaries, fiction, animation, and archival gems from 41 countries.  The bulk of these films, 308, were from Latin America with the largest participants as follows: Argentina had 65 films, Mexico (50), Cuba (43), Brazil (41), Chile (32), Colombia (21)… all the way down to Bolivia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama with one film each.  The remaining films came from other parts of the world, mainly the US, Spain, France, Germany and the UK.

The breadth of programming is astounding, a challenge that long-term Programming Director, Zita Morriña and her small staff revel in.  (Read my 2015 interview with her here.)  Figures on female directors were published only for competing films, not across the entire festival, where there were dozens of additional female-directed films, female-centered stories from both female and male filmmakers and important panels which brought together female directors and actors to discuss storytelling and challenges they face in their respective countries.  It would be wonderful to have full statistics, for all to see.  As film festivals all over the world scramble to adjust their programming to include more women directors, Havana seems very inclusive.  Festival director Iván Giroud pointed out at the awards ceremony, that the female directors in competition were chosen on their own strength not due to set quotas.

In terms of competing films, only 114 of the 404 films screening were in the official competition for the festival’s Coral Awards.  These are given in seven categories—fiction, opera primas (first films) (18 competing films), documentaries (23), short films (18), animated films (16), unpublished scripts (20) and artistic film posters (24).

The festival publishes a 200+ page catalog every year but “Diario del Festival, its daily 8-page newspaper, is indispensable for festival news and scheduling.  It arrives hot off the press and is distributed each morning at 9 a.m. at the Hotel Nacional.  While all program information in Havana is in Spanish, about one third of the films are subtitled, mainly in English, but also in German or French.  On many occasions, promised subtitles were not available. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Cine Riviera in Havana’s Vedado district is immediately recognizable by its blue and white motif. Built in the early ’50s on the site of the previous 1927 Rivieria Theatre, it became the first “atmospheric” cinema in Cuba—its walls were once painted with imitation Spanish facades creating the illusion of being outdoors. Currently, it seats 1,200 and also functions as venue for contemporary music. Photo: Geneva Anderson

My goal for my eight days at the festival was to see as many films as I could and to hit Havana’s rustic streets running.  Using the festival’s headquarters, the Hotel Nacional, in Vedado, as a base, I walked to most of the 15 screening venues, which are glorious retro-classics of Cuban architecture.  In all, I saw 42 films, usually five to six films daily, from 10 a.m. to midnight, and I attended press conferences and special programs.  There’s something magical about immersing oneself in powerful Latin American dramas, unfolding in Spanish, on native soil.  One can’t help but be swept up in the moment—the excitement of the Cuban crowd, the lines, the impassioned conversations, the thrill of stepping into these historic cinema houses— Acapulco, America, Charles Chaplin, Infanta, Karl Marx, La Rampa, Riviera, Yara, and 23Y12.

Below are a sampling of some of the films I saw that made a strong impression.

Bring on the dramas, both soft and strong!

 

Sofía Gala in a scene from Argentinian director, writer and co-producer Anahí Berneri’s sixth film, Alanís.  Sofia Gala was awarded the Coral for Best Female Performance and the film was awarded the top Coral. Sofía Gala gave a feisty and naturalistic performance as an unapologetic self-determined young mother and prostitute struggling to feed herself and her child after she is thrown out of her apartment.  Set in the streets of Buenos Aires, the unsentimental story contained scenes with the artistry of Renaissance portraits.

 

In Sebastian Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica, transgender Daniela Vega gives a breathtaking performance as Marina, a transgender woman and aspiring singer who has just lost her partner and who just wants to grieve.  Vega was awarded a Coral for Best Female Performance.  This was Sebastian Lelio’s fifth time to present a film in Havana and Una Mujer Fantástica won a special jury award and the UN’s Únete Prize.  His 2013 drama Gloria, another remarkable portrait of a woman, opened the 35th festival.

Argentinian director Anahí Berneri’s Alanís (2017) which went on to win the top feature fiction prize, screened in a sweet spot, Saturday night, and1 a huge crowd turned out at Cine Yara to see it and the Chilean film that followed, Sebastian Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman, 2017).  Through stories of female outcasts, both films unpacked female stereotypes, identity and societal intolerance.  How wonderful to see the crowd reacting so enthusiastically to these to two Latina actors who imbued their characters with dignity and presence and enough mystery that we wished their stories would go on and on.

 

Chilean actress Paulina García in a scene from La Novia del Desierto (2017), a delicate drama of female self-empowerment, which made a huge splash in Havana when its first-time directors, Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, picked up a Coral Award. 

In recent years, filmmakers from Chile, Argentina and Brazil have received international attention for dramas that inventively explore the outward and internal life journeys of female characters marginalized in society.  La Novia del Desierto (The Desert Bride, 2017) written and directed by Argentinians Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato, picked up the festival’s Coral for best debut film and the CiberVoto prize.  Chilean actress Paulina García (Gloria, 2013) gives a radiant and wonderfully-nuanced performance as Teresa, a quiet 54-year-old-woman who has worked for decades as a live-in maid in Buenos Aires, with no real life of her own.  When the family sells their home, she is shipped off to work for their relatives in the distant town of San Juan.  When an unplanned pit-stop in the desert strands her and she loses her small purse and crosses paths with a traveling salesman, her life changes suddenly at an age when taking ownership of her life no longer seemed possible.

In Liquid Truth, Brazilian actor, Daniel de Oliviera, plays a well-liked swimming teacher whose life is virtually ruined by viral internet rumors after he is accused of kissing one of his students, a seven-year-old boy, on the mouth. Brazilian director, Carolina Jabor, won a SIGNUS award for her second fiction feature film.

What if the only actual evidence of a crime is the testimony of an emotional parent translating the words of her child?  Brazilian producer-director, Carolina Jabor, deftly tackles a timely subject in her second feature film, Aos Teus Olhos (Liquid Truth, 2017), which focuses on a person who is all but convicted on the Internet before he is even tried or the facts are known.  Liquid Truth is one of a number of films coming out of Brazil’s thriving art-house cinema scene which has been fueled by strong government funding.

Daniel Giménez Cacho in a scene from Argentinian director Lucretia Martel’s period drama, Zama (2017), which won 3 Coral awards and the FIPRESCI Prize.

Long before Havana, Argentinian director Lucretia Martel (La ciénaga (The Swamp, 2004), La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, 2010) had charmed international audiences with her period drama, Zama, set in the late 18th century somewhere in the backwaters of South America. It was no surprise when the film picked up multiple Corals in Havana for Best Director, Artistic Director, and Sound, as well as the coveted film critics’ FIPRESCI Prize.  Zama is an epic examination of colonialism and prejudice told through the experiences of a Spanish functionary, Don Diego de Zama (Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho), whose life revolves around his anticipation of a job transfer.  Martel once studied philosophy and she imbues her films with a critical examination of big potent issues, exploring cause, blame and ambition.

 

Docs: informing and entertaining

 

Chilean director Lisette Orozco investigates her own aunt’s complicity in torture and the disappearance of dissidents as one of the female police agents Pinochet-era Chile (1973-90) in “El Pacto de Adriana” (2017). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Chilean director Lisette Orozco’s El Pacto de Adirana (2017) follows her frustrating investigation of her mercurial aunt, Channy—Adriana Elcira Rivas González—a female police agent in Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.  Adriana was arrested in 2007 in Santiago under charges of torture and involvement in an event that took place in 1976 when Pinochet’s secret political police’s (DINA) extermination unit raided Chile’s Communist Party safe house in Santiago, located at 1587 Conferencia Street.  During this raid, secret police officers, allegedly including Adriana, tortured, killed and did away with the bodies of one of the party’s chiefs, Víctor Díaz, and several other members.  Orozco’s dogged investigation into DINA and her aunt’s involvement literally divided her family, most of whom sided with Adriana.  Fascinating multiple conversations with the aunt reveal her to be highly suspect and unstable.  The remarkable film reveals deeply buried secrets festering in Chilean society to this day.  Orozco was awarded a special jury prize for Feature Length Documentary as well as the FEISAL Prize (Federation of Latin America Image and Sound Schools) and the Memory Award of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center.

A scene from Pamela Yates’ 500 Years.  Mayan survivors of the Guatemalan genocide cheer the guilty verdict against dictator Ríos Montt.  Convicted and sentenced to genocide and crimes against humanity on May 10, 2013, Montt was given an 80-year sentence and sent directly to prison.  It was the first time the perpetrator of genocide against indigenous people had been tried in a court of law. Photo credit: Daniel Hernández-Salazar

Intrepid American director Pamela Yates’ new film 500 Years (2017) continues her important saga of Guatemala’s indigenous resistance that began with When the Mountains Tremble (1983), followed by Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011).  In this doc, Yates introduces journalist Dr. Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, who covered the 2013 genocide trial of former dictator General Rios Montt and the citizen’s uprising which felled President Otto Pérez Molina in 2015.  Finally, it seems Guatemalan society’s plea to end corruption has been heard.  Simply put, Pamela Yates is the gold standard.  Her work ethic, dedication to truth telling and decades of reporting in the troubled region are unparalleled.

 

Mexican ranchera singer and rebel Chavela Vargas, the subject of Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s Chavela (2017).  Chevala was a LGBT icon in Mexico long before she officially came out at age 81.

Every year the festival showcases talented Latin American celebrities.  Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s captivating music-filled documentary, Chavela (2017), was a huge hit in Havana and introduced Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas who burst onto the Mexican music scene in the 1950’s.  She was known for her passionate, rebellious performances, and for often wearing men’s clothing.  She burned-out due to alcoholism and then rebounded late in life, coming out as lesbian at age 81, and establishing herself as musical and lesbian icon for a new generation of fans.  Gund and Kyi masterfully explore the singer’s legacy and her elusive and contradictory nature relying on filmed interviews with the late singer done in the 1990’s, more recent interviews with those who knew her, and a montage of archival footage from 70 years of performances.

Cuban Film:

Whether the focus is a period film looking back at Cuban history, a documentary or an entertaining drama or comedy, Cuban film inherently addresses life in Cuba and, for an outsider, there’s no better window on the island.  Before each screening of the two Cuban films in official competition for the fiction prize —Gerardo Chijona’s Los Buenos Demonios (2017) and Ernesto Daranas’ Sergio & Serguéi (2017) (winner of the Audience Award for Best Film), there were long lines of people eager to see how Cuba would be reflected on the big screen.

A scene from Cuban director Magda González Grau’s ¿Por qué lloran mis amigas? (2017). Photo: habanafilmfestival.com

Cuban director Magda González Grauda’s elegant drama, ¿Por qué lloran mis amigas? (Why My Friends Cry, 2017), was enlivened greatly by superb acting on the part of its four costars, all prominent film and television actresses—Luisa María Jiménez, Jasmín Gómez, Edith Massola and Amarilys Núñez.  The film, not included in official competition, screened as part of the enormous Latin America in Perspective portion of the festival which offers some 17 categories of films. The story revolves around four female friends who were very close growing up and who reunite after 20 years have passed.  Their discussion grows more candid the more time they spend together and shines a light on Cuban society, unleashing pent up emotions, frustrations and insecurities about the courses their lives have taken, the secrets they are keeping and how far they are willing to go to help each other out.  With a production team of mainly women, it was a joy to see them all take the stage in Havana.

Cuban actress and director, Isabel Santos.

Isabel Santos is one of Cuba’s most revered and beloved actresses and she made multiple appearances at the festival.  She starred in Carlos Barba’s 25 horas (2017), in the short fiction competition.  She co-starred in Gerardo Chijona’s Los Buenos Demonos (The Good Devils, 2017), in the feature-length fiction competition.  She was also one of 10 female directors included in the festival’s official documentary competition with her own 40 min doc, Gloria City (2017).  The film deftly explores the intertwining of fact and myth associated with the first Americans to settle in Cuba, at the beginning of the 20th century, in the village Gloria City, presently in the municipality of Sierra de Cubitas, on Camagüey Province’s northern coast, about 500 kilometers east of Havana.  Santos, who is from Camagüey, interviewed Cuban essayist and author Enrique Cirules (1938-2016), also from Camagüey, who wrote two books on the subject of Gloria City.  We can only imagine what this powerhouse would turn out if she were to direct a feature-length film.

Details: The 40th Festival of New Latin American Cinema is December 6-16, 2018 in Havana.  Click here for information.  Plan on making plane and hotel reservations well in advance of the festival.  Once in Havana, festival passes can be purchased at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where the festival is headquartered, or, individual tickets can be purchased at various screening venues.  Due to the immense popularity of the festival, and to avoid long lines, purchasing a festival pass is advised.

 

 

 

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March 3, 2018 - Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Internacional del Neuvo Cine Latinoamericano (or Havana Film Festival). (Read ARThound’s review here)  This year, she brought some of the best films from the Havana festival to MVFF and is especially […]

    Pingback by MVFF41 starts Thursday—¡VIVA EL CINE! showcases 15 award-winning Latin American and Spanish language film with many special guests « ARThound | October 4, 2018 | Reply


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