Informative plattform of International Federation of Film Societies- Féderation Internationalle des Ciné-clubs- Federación Internacional de Cine Clubes

Havana Film Festival 2017 Report

39 Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano

I was thrilled to be nominated to serve on the FICC jury for the 39th Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano in Havana. I had recently left Wellington to travel through Latin America and it was a fortuitous opportunity to be able to continue my film society involvement from afar. The experience was an incredibly valuable one—a chance to view some of the most exciting films coming out of Latin America with enthusiastic Cuban audiences.

My fellow jurors and I decided to give the Don Quijote Prize to Jimena Montemayor’s Restos de Viento with a special mention to Lúcia Murat’s Praça Paris.

We wanted to recognise ‘hidden gems’—films that might not have received as much attention as others in competition but that we consider to be exceptional based on our own analysis and with reference to the film society movement philosophy. For this reason, we decided to avoid giving the award to high-profile films like Lucrecia Martel’s Zama or Sebastián Lelio’s Una Mujer Fantastica although the three of us liked both), the latter of which is already gaining awards buzz in Hollywood. In my opinion, both films that we recognised are accomplished works that would be worthwhile additions to film society programmes worldwide.

During the festival we shared a van with members of the Fipresci and Signis juries. This was an opportunity for spirited intra and inter-jury discussion as we travelled between cinemas. On the eve of the awards ceremony, fellow FICC jurors Lázaro and Carles and I sat down to discuss which film(s) we wanted to recognise. We presented our respective short-lists of films and the two films that won out were somewhat of a compromise between those that we each championed. Of the 18 competition films that I saw, there were many that I would have been comfortable with recognising. In particular, I would love to see Wellington Film Society screen Marcelo Gomes’ Joaquim, Michel Franco’s Las Hijas de Abril or Diego Lerman’s Una Especie de Familia —my personal favourite of the festival.

Having said that, I am proud of our decision. Praça Paris is a tense, impeccably acted film about classism and racism in Brazil, and Restos de Viento assuredly depicts the multi-faceted ways in which people work through grief. During our discussions, I articulated a few misgivings that I had with the latter film, particularly the central metaphor it employs for its protagonist’s healing process which at times I found twee and overly-simplistic. This metaphor represents the point-of-view of a young child which somewhat mitigates its clumsiness, but this child is also the film’s narrator so his perspective defaults as the film’s. However, it would be unfair to disregard the film based on this one criticism when everything else about it is so good. At first, Restos de Viento feels downright claustrophobic with painfully intimate closeups of its three central characters who barely leave their house. But as the film progresses and the cinematography, settings and performances slowly open-up, their healing is tangible. The beginning of the film is so suffocating that I spent an embarrassingly large chunk of its runtime unaware that it was a period piece.

Impressive line-up of films aside, I was occasionally frustrated with the organisation of the festival. I was travelling with my partner Georgina and the festival provided me with a double-room even though I had told them we were unable to afford the difference in price and Georgina had already made other plans. At one stage, I was told by the festival that I would need to pay this sum. Instead, I offered to move out of the hotel before the end of the festival as a goodwill gesture and a way for them to recoup any extra money that they would have spent on the room. At the conclusion of the Festival, I did receive an apology for the numerous changes of advice and for misinformation received during the course of the Festival.

There were also technical problems with the DCP in Cine Charles Chaplin – the main venue for competition films – that resulted in us losing a day’s worth of viewing. By the time of our deliberation, we had caught up on 18 of the 19 competition films but these problems meant that none of us had the opportunity to see José Maria Cabral’s Carpinteros—the only film in competition from the Dominican Republic. Most films were from the much larger industries of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico so it is disappointing that I was unable to experience one from a lesser-seen national cinema. I understand that no festival is immune from these sorts of technical problems, but we were not updated about the likely impact of these problems which meant we were in the dark about which films we were going to have access to. This is exacerbated by the fact that each day’s schedule was only made public two days in advance and, even then, it was subject to change.

The social activities that I attended were uniformly excellent. The opening night gala, for example, got the festival off to an energetic start with a chamber music performance infused with Cuban flavour followed by a screening of Selton Mello’s crowd-pleasing O Filme da Minha Vida. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend as many events as I would have liked as my invitations to both the opening and closing night parties were not received by the jury.

By the time the festival started, I was already three weeks into my Cuban holiday and familiar with the hurdles faced by extranjeros on the island. I was comfortable rolling with the punches and employing the oft-repeated Cuban mantra of “tranquila”. I was able to look past minor logistical hiccups and focus on the positive impact that the festival has on film societies and non-profit oriented cinemas. The profile afforded to the FICC jury and the opportunity to recognise films that reflect our values is invaluable and I hope that the relationship between the federation and the festival continues.

I note that the International Federation of Film Societies’ ‘Carta de los Derechos Del Público’ lays out 10 points covering the fundamental importance of public access to art. I was told by several locals that Cuba doesn’t have an especially strong film-going culture but everyone I spoke to was nonetheless aware of the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano and immensely proud of it. In my experience, the New Zealand International Film Festival is mostly frequented by older, wealthier cinema-goers, but I did not notice any such barriers to entry in Havana. Because of the affordability of ticket prices, the cinemas were packed with people of all ages enthusiastically engaging with each film. Before each of the two Cuban films in competition, there was a massive line of people eager to see their culture reflected on the big screen. Our federation’s values were in plain view during the festival.

I am extremely grateful to International Federation of Film Societies for giving me the opportunity to serve on the jury, to the New Zealand Federation for nominating me and to Lázaro and Carles for their support and engagement during the festival. It was often a difficult experience but an overwhelmingly positive one and I hope it continues in future years. Thank you.

Johnny Crawford, New Zealand Federation of Film Societies


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