Tuesday April 25, 2017

Preview: Havana Film Festival New York 2017

A New York institution offers a panoramic look at current Cuban cinema

Esteban, by Jonal Cosculluela Sánchez

For nine days this Spring, March 30–April 7, the 18th edition of the Havana Film Festival New York is making its way around town.

Screenings and special events are scheduled for the Bronx, Queens, midtown and downtown Manhattan, and the Lower East Side.

More than 35 films will be presented, coming from Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Spain, the United States, and Venezuela.

Throughout the week, New York audiences will have the opportunity to view seven recent Cuban feature films. Festival screenings will take place in midtown Manhattan at the SVA Theatre (23rd Street) and at the AMC Loews 34th Street, as well as at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center (Lower East Side) and the New York Film Academy (Battery Place). Additional screenings are scheduled at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens.

The festival itself is preceded by a First Fridays! preview event, presented by the Bronx Museum of the Arts in collaboration with the Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture. The program at the Hostos Center begins with a 6 p.m. reception, followed by a screening of the documentary Playing Lecuona (2015), directed by Pavel Giroud and JuanMa Villar, about famed Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.

Playing Lecuona, by Pavel Giroud and JuanMa Villar

The movie will be followed by a musical performance by Contino y Los Habaneros, with music by DJ ASHO. Director Villar will be present for a Q&A. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.

Opening night, March 30, at the Directors Guild of America Theater in midtown Manhattan, features the New York premiere of Esteban (2016), a Cuba-Spain coproduction directed by Jonal Cosculluela Sanchez, about a talented 9-year-old who pursues his dream of becoming a pianist. The music is by Chucho Valdés, and the director will be present for Q&A.

Últimos días en La Habana / Last Days in Havana, by Fernando Pérez

In addition to Esteban, movies in competition include, among others, Últimos días en La Habana / Last Days in Havana (2016), the latest release by celebrated director Fernando Pérez (Suite Habana, 2003), winner of Cuba’s National Film Prize in 2007.

Últimos días is a tragicomedy that explores the friendship, aspirations, and dreams of two middle-aged men living in a dilapidated building in Centro Habana. Miguel, a dishwasher in a restaurant, dreams of emigrating to New York while he waits for a visa that never seems to arrive. Diego, a homosexual afflicted with AIDS, struggles to maintain a cheerful attitude and to enjoy life while confined to his rickety bed. Actor Patricio Wood (Miguel) will be on hand for the screenings.

Ya no es antes / Not Like Before, by Lester Hamlet

Other 2016 productions competing for the festival’s Havana Star Prize include: Ya no es antes / Not Like Before, directed by Lester Hamlet and based on the stage play Weekend in Bahía by Alberto Pedro. Starring acclaimed actors Isabel Santos and Luis Alberto García, it focuses on two lovers reunited after 40 years of separation. Lester Hamlet and Luis Alberto García will be present for Q&A.

El techo / On the Roof, by Patricia Ramos

In El techo / On the Roof, a first feature by Patricia Ramos, three bored young friends who gather every day on a Havana roof top decide to set up their own business. Director Ramos will be present for post-screening discussion.

Sharing Stella, by Enrique (Kiki) Álvarez

Enrique (Kiki) Álvarez’s Sharing Stella is a fiction-documentary hybrid that takes place in December 2014 in Havana. A director is seeking an actress to play Stella in a Cuban adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, when the announcement that Cuba and the U.S. are restoring diplomatic relations interrupts the lives of director and cast. The screening will be preceded by the short film, Con sana alegría / With Wholesome Joy (2016), by Claudia Muñiz. Muñiz and Álvarez will both be present for discussion after the films.

Fátima o el parque de la fraternidad / Fatima, by Jorge Perrugorría

In addition to the films in competition, the festival is also presenting the US premiere of Jorge Perrugorría’s Fátima o el parque de la fraternidad / Fatima (2014). Based on a short story by renowned writer Miguel Barnet, the film tells the story of Manolito, a young man who emigrated from the countryside to Havana, where he begins a new life as a transvestite performer and prostitute. Barnet will be present for Q&A at the April 1 screening at the Museum of the Moving Image. Director Perrugorría and actor Carlos Enrique Almirante will be on hand for the April 5 screening at the AMC Loews 34th Street cinema.

Carlos Lechuga’s controversial film, Santa y Andrés, has been withdrawn from the HFFNY. The film is set in a western province in the 1980s and follows the unlikely friendship that develops between a homosexual novelist, exiled there for his political activities, with a woman assigned by the government to prevent him from speaking at an upcoming political rally. The film was excluded from Havana's Festival of New Latin American Cinema in December, but was originally scheduled to be shown in competition for the HFFNY’s Havana Star prize. However, the festival opted to show it out of competition instead, and as a result of that decision, Lechuga has pulled the film from the festival.

Elpidio Valdés. by Juan Padrón

This year the festival is honoring animator Juan Padrón, known as the “father of Cuban feature film animation,” on the occasion of his 70th birthday. On April 3, at the Clemente Center, the exhibition Juan Padrón: Havana to New York will open with a 6:30 p.m. reception. On April 4, 5, and 6, Padrón’s films Vampiros en La Habana, Más vampiros en La Habana, and the kid-friendly Elpidio Valdés will be screened, the first at the New York Film Academy and the other two at the Clemente Center.

Also on April 3, the New York Film Academy will host a special program on Cuban music. “Stories of Cuban Music” will include the US premieres of two documentaries: Rebeca Chávez’s Decir con feeling and Patricia Ramos’ Ampárame! La Religiosidad en la música cubana, with an introduction by Luciano Castillo, director of the Cuban Film Archives.

And on April 2, at the SVA Theatre, the festival pays tribute to EICTV, the International School of Film and Television of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, celebrating its 30th anniversary, with a selection of shorts from some of its most distinguished alumni, followed by Q&A with EICTV’s new director Susana Molina.

The changes taking place in Cuba today also have an impact on the cinema. On April 4, “Cuban Cinema Today” brings together a panel of filmmakers to discuss these changes. Participants include Jorge Perugorría, Enrique (Kiki) Álvarez, Jonal Cosculluela, Iván Giroud, Lester Hamlet, and Patricia Ramos, with film professor Michelle Farrell as moderator. All panels are free and open to the public.

The 18th HFFNY wraps up on Friday, April 7, at the DGA Theater, with the awarding of the Havana Star Prizes, and the US premiere of The Forbidden Shore, a documentary by Canadian director Ron Chapman. Featuring performances and interviews with the island’s top artists, the film offers a portrait of Cuba’s people, culture, and politics as experienced through the diversity of its music.

The Forbidden Shore, by Ron Chapman

The Havana Film Festival New York is a project of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba (AFLFC). Carole Rosenberg is president of the AFLFC. Diana Vargas has been HFFNY’s Artistic Director and Programmer since 2003.

For schedule, ticketing, and detailed film information, visit the Havana Film Festival New York website.

Nadine Covert is a specialist in visual arts media with a focus on documentaries. She was for many years the Executive Director of the Educational Film Library Association (EFLA) and Director of its American Film Festival, then the major documentary competition in the U.S. She later became director of the Program for Art on Film, a joint venture of the J. Paul Getty Trust and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Covert has served on the board of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, and is currently a consultant to the Montreal International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA).