ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The Sonoma International Film Festival turns 20 this year: the line-up celebrates wine, food and art and so do the parties—Wednesday, March 29 through Sunday, April 2, 2017

Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon in a scene from the historical drama, “The Promise,” which opens the 20th Sonoma International Film Festival Wednesday at Sonoma’s Sebastiani Theater. Actress Angela Sarafyan will be in attendance opening night. The sweeping romance, co-written and directed by Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), is set in the final days of the Ottoman Empire and follows a love triangle between Michael (Oscar Isaac), a medical student; Chris (Academy Award winner Christian Bales), a renowned American photojournalist; and Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a sophisticated Armenian artist who both men fall for. Sarafyan plays the medical student’s wife from an arranged marriage. One of the most expensive independently financed films ever made ($100 million before tax concessions), the sumptuous drama deals directly with the Armenian genocide and is said to recall “Doctor Zhivago” and “Reds.” This year’s five-day festival features over 130 films, including independent features, docs, world cinema, shorts, student films AND parties. Image: courtesy IMDB

If you love great cinema, sampling world class food, wine and spirits from local artisan chefs, makers and vintners, it doesn’t get any better than the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  This beloved five-day festival has always the best parties of any film festival around, but, this year, a bottle runs through SIFF’s programming as well as its famed Backlot tent.  Eleven of the festival’s 130 films are tales of wine and gastronomy and the celebrities, criminals and unsung heroes from these universes.   The festival is dedicated to supporting independent filmmakers from around the world, and inspiring film lovers while plying them with food and wine.   There’s also Student Showcases,  the wonderful program of shorts from local high school film students which the festival supports enthusiastically.  All films are shown at seven intimate venues within walking distance of Sonoma’s historic plaza so there’s no driving, just meandering charming streets where roses, lilacs and irises are in glorious spring bloom.

ARThound’s top film and event picks:

The Turkish Way

Chef Joan Roca of the acclaimed restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca (center), in a scene from Luis González’s engrossing new food travelogue “The Turkish Way,” screening twice at SIFF 20. Image: BBVA Contenidos

On the heels of the immensely popular Cooking Up a Tribute (2015), which had last year’s SIFF attendees queuing excitedly in enormous lines,  director Luis González again teams with the Roca brothers—Joan, Josep and Jordi, owners of Catalonia’s Celler de Can Roca, Restaurant Magazine‘s Best Restaurant in the World honoree—to take a five-week tour across Turkey.   Their mission: to plunge into the diverse culinary cultures merging at this cradle of civilization.  Hot on the trail of new ideas for their own restaurant as well, the brothers engage with sommeliers, chefs and farmers from bustling Istanbul to the bucolic vineyards of Cappadocia and share a meal and chat  with the innovators of New Anatolian cuisine.  They discover an ancient nation on the cusp of a food revolution. (2016, 86 min) (Screens: Thurs, March 30, 11:45 am, Celebrity Cruises Mobile Cinema, and Fri, March 31, 9:15 am, Sonoma Veterans Hall Two)

Celebrity Cruises Mobile Cinema—the venue designation “CCMC” indicates Celebrity Cruises brand new mobile pop-up movie theater featuring a high definition projection and sound system, where guests can enjoy beverages, wine, truffle popcorn and enter to win great prizes, such as a luxurious cruise to the Caribbean for two.

The Distinguished Citizen (El ciudadano ilustre)

Oscar Martínez as author Daniel Mantovani in “The Distinguished Citizen,” Argentina’s foreign-language Oscar submission, screens twice at SIFF 20.

A favorite at last December’s International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Cuba, Argentinian directing partners Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s latest comedy, El ciudadano ilustre, stars Oscar Martinez (Paulina) as a Noble Prize-winning Argentinean author who returns to the village of his birth for the first time in 40 years. Divided into five chapters, the film follows Daniel Mantovani (Martinez) from his spacious Barcelona villa to the modest hotel room booked for him in backwater Salas, Argentina, where he is to be honored with a medal and a full slate of cultural activities.  The scenes are played to maximum comedic effect with outstanding performances all around.  What makes the story work so well is that we can all relate to the long suppressed memories and emotions a visit back home can evoke.  It turns out that while Mantovani has been living a cosmopolitan life in Europe,  he’s taken all of his literary inspiration from Salas and the citizens of Salas have strong feelings about his depictions.  Mantovani shines as he explores his complex relationship with his roots and his past.  (2016, 117 min) (Screens: Thursday March 30, 1 pm, Sebastiani, and Sat, April 1, 12:30 pm, Sonoma Veterans Hall One.

Franca: Chaos and Creation

Photographer and filmmaker, Francesco Carrozzini, and his mother, Franca Sozzani, editor in chief of “Vogue Italia,” in a still from the documentary film, “Franca: Chaos and Creation” which was four years in the making. Image: Mission Media

Fashion films have become a documentary genre unto themselves.  When the subject at hand is Franca Sozzani, the fearless editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia and the director is her son, Francesco Carrozzini, expect nothing short of art and an iconic framing of fashion history.  The groundbreaking shoots and themed issues that she engineered over the last quarter century in collaboration with photographer Steven Meisel transcended fashion. Domestic violence, plastic surgery, substance abuse, racism and environmental catastrophes are just some of the issues that Sozzani tackled in her work, often leading to criticism that social commentary had no place in the pages of a publication such as Vogue.  Sozzani believed in the power of the image – some Vogue Italias featured 50-page-long fashion shoots where the clothes were barely visible and subordinate to the overall composition of the photographs.   And Franca Sozani, well, there are moments when she reveals herself to her son in this intimate portrait, that only a son could have captured.  Sozzani passed in December 2016 at the age of 66.  (2016, 80 min) (Screens: Thursday, March 30, 3 pm, Sonoma Veterans Hall One and Friday, March 31, 2:30 pm, Sonoma Veterans Hall Two)

Afterimage

Boguslaw Linda as Polish artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski in Andrzej Wajda’s biopic “After Image.” Image: courtesy TIFF

Sadly, the Polish master, Andrzej Wajda (A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds) died at age 90, in 2016,  just after completing Afterimage.  This biopic of the Polish avant-garde painter, Wladyslaw Strzeminski, Poland’s foreign language Oscar submission for 2016, is a story from Wajda’s own past, battling passionately for artistic expression in the vice-grip of state ideology and censorship.  Set in the dark years of Soviet rule, 1948 to 1952, the film tracks the highly-principled painter and handicapped (double amputee) professor Strzeminski, played by the masterful Boguslaw Linda (Blind Chance, Pan Tadeusz), as he battles the Socialist Realism movement in an attempt to advance his progressive art and inspire his students.  His activity as a solo artist and his participation in groups that he organized in the 1920s and 1930s (together with his wife, Katarzyna Kobro, and painter Henryk Stazewski) played a fundamental role in the history of 20th-century Polish art.  A man of great integrity and energy, Strzeminski was persecuted but refused to compromise.  The film’s title is borrowed directly from the painter’s famous series of paintings from 1948–1949.  It refers to persistent images, those optical illusions that continue to appear under one’s eyelids after staring at a reflective object. (2016, 98 min) (Screens:  Thurs, March 30, 9:15 am, Celebrity Cruises Mobile Cinema and Sat, April 1, 9:30 am, Sonoma Veterans Hall One)

Unleashed

A scene from Finn Taylor’s “Unleashed,” with Kate Micucci, screening twice at SIFF 20. (Image: courtesy Braveheart Films

 I wouldn’t be ARThound if I didn’t point out the festival’s dog-related flicks. What if your pets turned into full-grown men?  I couldn’t resist the wacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin).  All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles.  This delightful film picked the 39th Mill Valley Film Festival’s Audience Favorite Award /US Cinema Indie.  (2016, 93 min) (Screens: Thurs, March 30 at 12 noon, Sonoma Veterans Hall One and Sat, April 1, 12 noon, Sebastiani)

Young Filmmakers

Don’t forget the student films!:  One of the festival highlights is the annual Student Showcases, films from Peter Hansen’s Media Arts Program students at Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS), screening twice this year. Since 2002, SIFF and its members have donated nearly $500,000 to SVHS’s Media Arts Program which opens doorways to creativity in the digital arts through filmmaking classes, animation, scriptwriting, film theory, and, most of all, storytelling.  The festival also supports media programs in the Valley’s two middle schools. (Student Showcase Screenings: Thursday, March 30, 10am to 12:30 pm, Sebastiani and Sunday, April 2, 3 to 5:30 pm, Sonoma Vets Hall One

Peter Hansen has selected SVHS senior Owen Summers’ stop action 6 min claymation film Magic Beans to be accepted into the Sonoma International Film Festival. In 15 years, only three student films from SVHS have been chosen as official SIFF selections. Owen is a senior at Sonoma Valley High School.  (Screens: Thurs, March 30 in Shorts Films Program, Vintage House, and Sunday, April 2, 9 am at the Taiwan Tourism Bureau Theatre (Andrews Hall).

SIFF Emerging Artist Award: This year, 18 year-old student filmmaker Kiara Ramirez will be honored with the festival’s first SIFF Emerging Artist Award.  Her six minute short, the first she has produced and directed, is the mini-doc, Detrás del Muro (Behind the Wall), a thoughtful and sharply edited human portrait of immigration issues was inspired by the rhetoric of last year’s primaries

Parties:  

New this year: you can attend parties without a pass for $50.

Emerald Party: A big bash on Thursday, March 30 celebrates several 20th anniversaries—SIFF’s, Sondra Bernstein’s the girl & the fig, and Tito’s Vodka.  Sondra’s celebrating by creating superb food for the party. Cake by Crisp Bake Shop and other birthday surprises will be in store.  An after-party continues at The Starling for signature craft cocktails and music with Ten Foot Tone.  Purchase $50 ticket here.

Taiwanese Night: On Friday, March 31, the Back Lot Tent is transformed into a lively Taiwanese Night Market, courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. Purchase $50 ticket here.

Festival Awards & Celebration Party: Saturday, April 1, Walk the carpet and celebrate SIFF’s finest films at the Award Ceremony.  Following the awards, toast the winners with wine, cocktails, Lagunitas, food from the girl & the fig and live music with Loosely Covered. Purchase $50 ticket here.

SIFF 20 Details:

The 20th Sonoma International Film Festival starts Wednesday, March 29 and runs through Sunday, April 2, 2016.  PASSES:  SIFF can be enjoyed at different levels and passes provide access to films, parties in SIFF Village’s Backlot Tent, after parties, receptions, and industry events and panels.  Currently, Cinema Passes are $275 for and Soiree Passes are $725.  All Cinema pass holders will have day access to the Backlot Tent in SIFF Village and all films.  Soiree pass holders will have day VIP area and evening party access and all films.  New this year:  exciting options for attending several screenings and individual parties without buying all-inclusive passes.  For information about festival passes, prices, and benefits visit sonomafilmfest.org.   SINGLE TICKETS:  A limited number of $15 tickets are available for each film screening.  These sell out rapidly, so purchase these in advance online at sonomafilmfest.org.

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March 27, 2017 Posted by | Dance, Film, Food, Jazz Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Havana’s 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, so much to see!

Argentinean directing partners Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s comedy, “El ciudadano ilustre” (The Distinguished Citizen), opened the 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema at Havana’s Karl Marx Cinema on December 8, 2016. The film stars Oscar Martinez as Daniel Mantovani, a cosmopolitan Noble Prize-winning Argentinean author who returns to the village of his birth for the first time in 40 years. The film picked up a Coral award for best screenplay at the close of the ten day festival and was Argentina’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film.

Havana’s renowned International Festival of New Latin American Cinema—December 8-18, 2016—is a ten day extravaganza that gives attendees a chance to roam widely through an immense selection of cinema and spend time in fascinating Havana.  My second experience of this wonderful festival, the 38th edition, was even more rewarding than the first, which was in 2015.  The festival is one of the Havana’s and Latin America’s most anticipated annual events, offering the best and latest in Cuban, Latin American and world film—roughly 440 features, documentaries, fiction, animation, and archival gems from roughly 50 countries.

Due to bad weather in Miami and delayed flights stateside, I arrived two days late and missed opening night, which drew hundreds to  Teatro Karl Marx in Havana’s Miramar district.  Festival director Iván Giroud dedicated the evening to Fidel Castro and to Julio García Espinoza, whose his acclaimed film school, EICTV, was celebrating its 30th anniversary.  The Argentinean drama, The illustrious citizen, directed by Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, was the opening night film.

Last December, the 30 minute (9 mile) cab ride from the José Marti International Airport in Boyeros to downtown Havana was marked by banners and billboards commemorating Fidel Castro’s life and influence, some had been there for years and others put up in response to his recent death. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Overshadowing the 38th festival was Fidel Castro’s recent death, of natural causes, on the evening of November 25, 2016.  Castro, whose health had been failing for years, had held onto power from 1959-2008.  Gradually, he had turned things over to his brother, Raúl Castro, who is now nearing the end of his second five-year term and will step down from the presidency in 2018 when a new ruler will elected by the National Assembly.  A large part of Cuba’s attraction, festival aside, is exploring Castro’s complex legacy.  His death took place amidst an undeniably cinematic moment—Cuba’s rebirth.  Everywhere you go in Havana these days, architecture and attitudes are in flux and Capitalist consumption is perched to spread like wildfire.  In a society that has long touted the ideals of social equality, there’s a feeling both of hopefulness and of anxiety over being left behind.  Not surprisingly, the motif of nostalgia and change permeated the Cuban films I saw as well.

My goal for my 8 day stay was to see as many films as I could and to hit Havana’s rustic streets and start exploring the changes firsthand.  Using my hotel, the Hotel Nacional, as a base, I walked to as many of the 14 screening venues as possible and to tried to take different routes each time.  In all, I saw 48 films during my 8 day stay, usually 5 to six films daily, from 10 AM to midnight, and I covered a lot of downtown Havana.

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is the festival’s hub and main host hotel. Built in 1930, the beloved five-star hotel is situated on a hill in Vedado just a few meters from the sea; it has a fabulous outdoor bar facing the water that is the perfect spot for an interview and a cocktail.  Guests have included Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner. Photo: Geneva Anderson

A ride in a taxi colectivo (shared taxi) is a cliche waiting to to be exploited: it’s cheap, about 30 cents in Cuban “CUP” (the national coin used by Cubans), and fun.  Most tourists use Convertible pesos or “CUC” and pay the equivalent of US $5 to $10 dollars to go from venue to venue in some form of private taxi.  The locals all use buses or taxi colectivos—big classic cars from the 1950’s—which serve as shared taxi’s and go just one way, up or down Havana’s long boulevards. People cram in like sardines and hop in and out. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

 

The festival catalogue, mi rollo, my película (mi role my film) offered 231 pages of films, with all program information in Spanish.  About a third of the films were subtitled, mainly in English, but also in German or French.   Immediately evident is the depth of the programming, a challenge that Programming Director, Zita Morriña and her small staff revel in. (Read my 2015 interview with her here.)  The festival receives well over a 1,000 film submissions directly and seeks out prizewinners from Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto.  It acknowledges talent across the board, offering juried competitions in eight areas and numerous awards, including best unrealized screenplay and even one for the best artistic design of the festival’s poster.

Every morning at 9 a.m., the 8-page daily festival newspaper,  Diario del Festival, arrived hot off the press, listing screening times and venues for the current day and the next day, and whether a film was subtitled.  The Nacional’s lobby and breakfast room came alive with discussions of what to see, how to get there.

The “Diario del Festival,” the festival’s daily newspaper (entirely in Spanish), is indispensable for scheduling and the latest festival news. Photo: Geneva Anderson

One can’t help but be swept up in the moment—the excitement of the crowd, the lines, the impassioned conversations, the glory of stepping into these historic cinema houses— Infanta, La Rampa, America, Yara, Charles Chaplin and 23Y12.  Most Cubans have not traveled or been able to surf the web much but they are voracious cinephiles and will wait in lines that stretch on for blocks to see a film that generated a buzz abroad.  Seeing Latin American and Cuban films on native soil with such an energetic audience added tremendously to my experience.

This year, the festival flew in Sonia Braga, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  Over the years, a good number of Hollywood stars have attended—Jack Lemmon, Gregory Peck, Robert DeNiro, Chris Walken, Annette Bening, Spike Lee, and others.   I was equally delighted to see the many Cuban and Latin American directors and actors and full productions team that participate, taking the stage for brief conversations and rounds of applause.

Cine Yara, on Calle 23 in Havana’s Vedado district, is one of the main venues for Havana’s International Festival of New Latin American Cinema. A key example of Cuba’s “Modern Movement” in architecture, it opened in 1947 as “Teatro Warner Radiocentro” with 1,650 seats, and was operated by Warner Bros. In 2015, it became one of Havana’s first cinemas to embrace digital projection but retained a 35 mm projector to allow screening of classic films. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cine Yara is huge inside but its narrow spacing of rows makes for slow entry and exit. 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

Contemporary Cuban movie posters, with their bold and saturated colors, are masterpieces of graphic design which tend to focus on concepts in the film, not on the actors. They are sold at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and displayed and sold at most of the festival’s screening venues.

 

If you’re looking for perfect screening conditions, creature comforts, or envision sipping a mojito during a screening, Havana is not for you, at least not yet.  There were some technical issues, primarily with sound or films that would not play, and, a few times, there were no subtitles.  Substitutions were made on the spot.  As for fuel, there is no “to-go” coffee but basic inexpensive snacks—chips, cups of popcorn, nuts, candies and fruits—are sold outside the theaters in huge shopping carts. One mitigating delight is that each theater displays and sells wonderful movie posters, very artfully designed, and t-shirts for a song and you’ll be tempted to stock up.

38th edition highlights:

exploring depths of the Latin American psyche:

Mexican actor Gael García Bernal appeared in two big films in Havana, Pablo Larraín’s “Neruda” and Jonas Cuarón’s border drama, “Desierto.”

For those intrigued by the lyrical, the sinister and the outrageous factors that have come to shape Latin American identity, they need look no further than Chilean director Pablo Larraín, whose work is deeply appreciated in Cuba.  In 2012, his No won the top award for fiction film.  In 2015, his The Club won the Coral Prize, the festival’s top prize.  For the 38th festival, Larraín screened his new films Jackie, starring Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in aftermath of her husband’s assassination, and his semi-fictional Neruda, starring Mexican actor Gael García Bernal and Chilean actor, Luis Gnecco, who first appeared together in Larrain’s No.

Neruda lays out the struggle between political authority and the creative impulse in a detective story about the 1948 political exile of the Nobel-Prize winning poet and Chilean Communist Party Senator, Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), who lived in hiding in Chile before fleeing to Argentina and then on to France.  Bernal plays the obsessive detective, Peluchonneau, who is hot on Neruda’s trail but instead is undone by the chase.  Neruda, embodied brilliantly by Gnecco, is a complex, hedonistic larger-than-life figure whose identity is fueled by his own mythology.  Everything about this philosophical drama played well in Havana.  The audience was familiar with both Neruda’s poetry and his January 6, 1948 denouncement of Chilean President Gabriel González Videla which made Neruda a target of the same anti-repressive policies he was fighting as a senator.

A scene from Colombian director Víctor Gaviria’s “La Mujer de Animal” which uses graphic violence to denounce violence.

Looking beyond those films that had big splashes at European festivals was eye-opening. The violence in several films that came highly recommended was hard to stomach. Columbian director Víctor Gaviria’s La Mujer de Animal (The Animal’s Wife, 2016) was most extreme in depicting the utter terror of living with unrelenting  domestic violence.  The abuser is Animal (Tito Alexander Gómez), a revolting, rage-filled criminal who dominates the shantytown he lives in and abuses everyone he comes in contact with. When he becomes obsessed with innocent 18 year-old Amparo (Natalia Polo), he kidnaps her, rapes her, forces her to marry him, and soon impregnates her.  Powerless, she becomes his whipping post and the entire community, out of fear, turns a blind eye to his horrific abuse which escalates after their daughter is born.  Had I seen this in the States, I would have had my fill and walked out.  In Havana, despite being numbed out, I opted to stayed for some insight into the context—the dire and marginalizing poverty—that had bred such evil and complicity.  Cringing in my seat, I waited to see if she would muster the strength to retaliate and kill this monster.  To my surprise, Gaviria walked away with the festival’s award for best director.  After a chat with a Colombian sociology student about the aesthetics and complex role of violence in Latin American cinema, I saw the film differently but would hesitate to recommend it.

Another soul-crushing domestic violence drama was Brazilian director Marco Dutra’s Era El Cielo (The Silence of the Sky, 2016).  The violence in this one was easier to stomach but its psychological chill lasted for days.  Set in an entirely different economic strata—a gorgeous middle class home in Montevideo, Uruguay—the story presents a husband’s unexpected response to his wife’s brutal rape.  The film takes a captivating twist into his obsession and the rape becomes more about him than her.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (L) and Gael García Bernal (R) in a scene from Mexican director Jonas Cuarón’s border drama “Desierto” (2016), awarded the festival’s top prize.

The premiere of Mexican director Jonas Cuarón’s border thriller, Desierto, earlier in the year had coincided with Donald Trump’s anti-immigration campaign rhetoric and it became a film of note at several festivals.   The plot is conventional and straightforward: it takes a truck full of Mexican migrants attempting to cross the US border illegally and introduces a crazed racist vigilante sniper, Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who along with his vicious dog, is ready for a slaughter.  Most of the people are killed off early in the film but Moises (Gael García Bernal) becomes Sam’s primary target and a chilling game of cat and mouse ensues in the desert.  This was Mexico’s Foreign Language submission to the 89th Academy Awards and it won the festival’s top prize, the Coral for best film.  Seeing it in Cuba with a very sympathetic audience still didn’t convince me that it was anything more than an excuse to make a chase film with excessive gore.

Docs from far-flung corners:

A scene from Czech director Helena Třeštíková’s documentary “Marcella” (2007), a quiet masterpiece that feels like stepping into a memory of a family and a specific culture.

Exploring this festival’s broad selection of documentaries is always a pleasure.  I had never heard of Czech director, Helena Třeštíková, who was a special honoree this year.  She is legendary for Marriage Stories, her series of documentary films which explored 25 years of Czech society through the lives of six married Czech couples.  The series screened on Czech television and elicited rave reviews.  How wonderful to meet her in person in Havana and watch two of her insightful films.

Marcella (2007) begins with commonplace Marcella marrying Juri and it follows her for the next 26 years as she navigates her crumbling marriage and the agony and joy of raising a daughter who is developmentally challenged in a society that is churning in all directions as it emerges from an era of communist rule. Shot incrementally, Třeštíková gives us everyday occurrences as well as milestones (the birth and then tragic death of Ivanka, Marcella’s daughter, moving to another apartment) and weaves it all together with an incredible fluidity and empathy.  By the end of the film, we see Marcella as anything but commonplace, because we have witnessed the molding and emergence of her true self.  As for marriage, we witness that in the Czech Republic, in those pre-Velvet Revolution days, it required a team to function and going it alone was next to impossible. The decision to choose a mate was also pragmatic.  When you consider that Třeštíková was creating six of these marriage portraits simultaneously, you get a real sense of her artistry as well as her powers of organization, collaboration and patience.

The processing of historical memory and documentation of atrocities is an essential role of Latin American film and the festival always honors this with outstanding examples.  El Salvadorian journalist and director Marcela Zamora Chamorro’s sensitive documentary, The Offended (Los Offendios, 2016), offers poignant insight on the 12 year-long Salvadorian civil war in which 75,000 civilians died at the hands of government forces.  Through interviews with several victims of torture and imprisonment who tell their stories in their own words, some for the first time, a pressing narrative of El Salvador’s ongoing struggle for truth and justice emerges. Chamorro’s father, Rubén Zamora, led the Revolutionary Democratic Front during the war, went into exile, and was tortured by the Salvadorian National Police and his articulate and detailed re-telling of these events is the focal point of the film.

Andreia Horta is Brazilian legend Elis Regina in Hugo Parto’s bio-pic “Elis” (2106).

It’s not all heavy.  The festival introduces talented Latin celebrities who are not well known in the States, both as subjects of films and as actors.  Brazilian director Hugo Prata’s musical bio-pic, Elis (2016), introduced me to Elis Regina (1945-82) one of the biggest Brazilian singers of all times.  The film balances her singing career with her tumultuous personal life.  Brazilian actress Andreia Horta’s dynamic performance as this velvet voiced bossa nova and suadade powerhouse could not have been more captivating.

Special Guests

Brazilian actress Sônia Braga at a press conference for “Aquarius” at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. In “Aquarius,” Braga plays Clara, a retired music critic, and widow, who is striving to hold on to her beachside apartment in upscale Recife, Brazil. When developers buy up all the apartments in the 1940’s-built complex with the intent of bashing it down, Clara holds her ground. A stand-off ensues with the developers and her children both pressuring her to sell. The film is a metaphor for present day Brazil with Braga as its inspirational and unshakable heroine. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Afternoon press conferences with Oliver Stone and Sônia Braga at the Hotel Nacional were packed and included lengthy and enjoyable Q & A’s with the celebrities.  Oliver Stone spoke passionately about his bio-pic, Snowden (2016), pointing to the villainy of the US intelligence community and Snowden’s heroic outing of our appalling post-9/11 lack of privacy.  Experiencing Stone slickly field questions from the impassioned journalists in attendance, many from countries who had been the puppets of US policy, was an unforgettable experience.

Snowden’s gala screening at Cine Yara was packed with an audience eager for a hefty exposé.  Sorely missing in the evening was an in-depth on-stage conversation with the multi Oscar-winning Stone, who had also had extensive interaction with Fidel Castro, the subject of two of his films.

Brazilian actress Sônia Braga captivated journalists at her press conference for Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s new film that has garnered numerous festival awards the world over.  She told journalists that she identified deeply with her character, Clara, because “she expresses much of what I need to say as a citizen” and the film “is a metaphor for both Brazilian and international resistance against global dynamics which bolster the wealthy.”   At the festival awards ceremony, Braga was honored with the Award for Best Female Performance and Aquarius went on to receive the Signis Award, granted by the World Catholic Association for Communication, and the Fripresci Award, of the International Federation of Movie Critics.

Cuban Film

The festival’s vast selection of  Cuban cinema was enticing—85 films!  I got my list of must-sees from Cuban editor Nelson Rodríguez who, since the 1960’s, had worked with all the leading Cuban directors and several prominent Latin American directors.  He steered me first towards the four classics in the festival’s new “Restored Classics” programming.  Three of these were directed by Tomás Gutierrez Alea (1928-1996), Cuba’s most influential director who was largely responsible for catapulting Cuban cinema into the international limelight.  Rodríguez explained that, even 20 years after his death, Alea still permeates Cuban film culture.  He walked the line with his witty, allegorical portraits of Cuba and his gaze reflected both a dedication to the revolution and a critique of how contemporary society measured up.  I attended all the screenings in this category.  The theaters were packed and the audience enthusiastically cheered the cast and creative teams who came on stage and spoke about their experiences.

Memories of Underdevelopment  (Memorias del Subdesarrollo, Tomás Gutierrez Alea, 1968)   

Sergio Corrieri as Sergio in a scene from Cuban director Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s fifth film ” “Memories of Underdevelopment” (1968), one of Cuba’s most important and beloved films. Recently restored via the collaboration of several global film foundations.  Sergio’s family flees to Miami shortly after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion but he chooses to stay in Havana.  The plot follows Sergio’s thoughts and experiences as he is confronted by the new reality.  He lives as an alienated outsider, disdainful of his bourgeois family and friends and highly skeptical of those who believe naively that everything in Cuba can be transformed suddenly.  He sustains himself as a rent-collecting property owner and chases women until he is accused of rape.

The Survivors (Los Sobrevivientes, Tomás Gutierrez Alea, 1979)

A scene from Cuban director Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s “The Survivors” (1979), a biting portrait of a clan of Cuba’s pampered and childish aristocrats, set in post-revolutionary 1960’s Cuba. In order to evade the contamination that has befallen society, an extended family decides to hole up from the outside world (with their servants) in total isolation in their large villa and live the good life.  Over time, the family experiences a total reversal of fortune corresponding to the phases of capitalism. They begin their exile in capitalism which degenerates to feudalism, then to slavery, and in the end, all out barbarism.

The Cuban classic films were restored in collaboration with Cinema House of Cuba and the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) and with the financial and technical assistance of several international film foundations and dedicated individuals.  Representatives from these organizations participated in the festival’s well-attended informative public symposium on restoration, an issue of importance throughout Latin America. Cuba’s problem: the island’s humidity is hell on celluloid and many important Cuban films have deteriorated entirely and many more are in jeopardy, each a vital chunk of Cuba’s cultural heritage.  Cuba needs both money and technical experience to preserve these films.  Using Memories of Underdevelopment as the main example, but drawing on other films too,  panel members spoke of their painstaking involvement with the film’s restoration and issues associated with digitization and audiovisual patrimony.

contemporary Cuban film:  It’s Not Like Before (Ya no es antes, Lester Hamlet, 2016)

In Lester Hamlet’s “Ya no es antes,” seasoned Cuban actors Isabel Santos and Luis Alberto García play former lovers Mayra and Esteban who are in the second halves of their lives and are grappling, very awkwardly, with how to let down their guards and explore their feelings for each other.  Separated since their teen-age years by immigration, they meet again in Cuba four decades later when Mayra comes back from the States and meets Esteban, who remained in Cuba.  The tender drama is an adaptation of Cuban writer Alberto Pedro Torriente’s’ beloved play from the 1980’s, “Weekend in Bahia.”  It explores a question very relevant in today’s Cuba—is it possible for people with different world views and life experiences to put all that aside and take a chance on love?  The wonderful chemistry of this Cuban duo, especially in their neurotic freak-outs, evoked belly laughs and tears.  The film won the festival’s Popularity (People’s Choice) Prize and Luis Alberto García was awarded festival’s Best Actor prize.

For the past ten years, the festival’s experimental film section, “Cine Experimental” has been in the hands of San Francisco experimental filmmaker, Dominic Angerame,  who has rigorously taken his enthusiastic audiences through the history of experimental cinema, showing them important gems they would have never encountered in Cuba were it not for his dedication. This year, celebrating his decade of Havana programming, he outdid himself with eight separate programs featuring dozens of important experimental and avant-garde films.  I spent an afternoon catching the lyrical “Programa No.5” that featured 15 films, six of which were by Guggenheim Film Fellowship winner Lynne Sachs, working solo or in collaboration with Mark Street, or Noa Street.  The high-point of the afternoon was seeing one of Angerame’s vintage experimental films shot in Havana some 20 years ago.

Details: The 39th Festival of New Latin American Cinema is December 8-17, 2017 in Havana.  Click here for information.  Plan on securing 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.

 

February 12, 2017 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment