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Up in smoke: Havana at the Brighton Film Festival

This year’s CINECITY, the Brighton Film Festival (17 November – 4 December), presents a season of ten films - nine features and one short, including: Havana Blues the ‘Buena Vista Social Club for the MTV Generation’; the epic 1964 Soviet/Cuban collaboration I am Cuba, and the 2005 Spanish box office smash and Cannes Film Festival winner, Viva Cuba – all of which explore Havana, the capital of Cuba – providing a rare chance to see both new and classic films from the cinema of a revolution that refuses to die!

After its Brighton Film Festival outing the CINECITY : HAVANA season will be screened at The National Film Theatre, London in January 2006.

Present at the screenings in Brighton will be Juan Carlos Cremata director of Viva Cuba, Enrique Pineda Barnet co-writer of I Am Cuba, and renowned Cuban Cinema authority, academic, writer and documentary filmmaker Michael Chanan, who will give an illustrated introduction to the season. (Chanan’s new film Detroit: Ruin of a City will also be screened during the Festival. (http://humanities.uwe.ac.uk/bristoldocs/detroit).

PLUS, acclaimed artist and Royal Academician Tom Phillips has been commissioned by Brighton’s Lighthouse Media Centre (with the support of the Arts Council of England) to create an installation piece entitled Utilitarian Dreams which will explore links between Brighton and Havana. Tom will collaborate with a group of architects from the University of Brighton, the Cuban curator Yuneikys Villalonga Hernandez and a group of Cuban Digital artists. The show will be showcased at the Brighton Fringe Basement during the Festival.

Cuban Cinema – Background

When the Cuban Revolution took power in 1959 its film audiences were huge – the average Cuban went to the cinema seventeen times a year, more than in Britain - but the films they flocked to see reflected Hollywood’s cultural domination of the island.

This was to change with the creation of the ICAIC (Cuban Institute for Film Art and Industry), the first cultural institution to be established by the new government, whose aim was to create a revolutionary, national cinema independent of commercial demands and US interests, but which still had popular appeal.

Explains writer (author of the definitive text on the subject, ‘Cuba Cinema’) and academic Michael Chanan: “Cuban cinema is synonymous with the Cuban Revolution, and very much of its time. The Cuban Revolution became communist, but the film institute rejected the Stalinist concept of socialist realism and their films paid homage equally to Eisenstein and Fellini, the French New Wave and Brazilian Cinema Novo. By the end of the 1960s, Cuban cinema was recognised as one of the most exciting cinemas in the world.”

He continues: “Just as Havana emerged as the champion of anti-imperialism and a leader of Third World nations, it also became a second home for progressive filmmakers throughout Latin America."

“ At the same time”, he says, “ film culture became much more diverse. As new films from the US were (and still are) officially unobtainable because of the US blockade of Cuba (though they always manage to get in through the back door), the ICAIC imported films from everywhere else – Europe East and West, Latin America, Japan and the Far East – and Cuban audiences came to see a much wider range of World Cinema than is usual almost anywhere ”.

The Nineties brought crisis to the Film Institute, as it did to the whole Cuban economy, when Communism in Eastern Europe collapsed to leave Cuba in desperate isolation. Film production was severely curtailed, many technicians and actors emigrated, and the ICAIC turned its efforts to co-productions with commercial, mainly European partners. The flowerings of this policy include Viva Cuba (a co-production with France) and Havana Blues (a French/Cuban/Spanish production).

CINECITY : HAVANA Film Season Highlights:

HAVANA BLUES (dir. Benito Zambrano, 2004) UK PREMIERE and CLOSING NIGHT FILM of CINECITY : Havana strand. An homage to contemporary Havana directed by Spaniard Benito Zambrano, who studied in Cuba and whose previous film, Solas, was an international Festival hit. Havana Blues focuses on two young Cuban musicians who share the same dream – to become famous and leave Havana.

Described as the ‘Buena Vista Social Club for the MTV generation’ and hugely popular (over 600,000 admissions at the Spanish box office) Havana Blues was the closing night film in this year’s Un Certain Regard section at The Cannes Film Festival.

I AM CUBA (dir. Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964), one of the favourite films of Martin Scorsese, Paul Anderson (who steals a scene from it in Boogie Nights), and Francis Ford Coppola, I Am Cuba is an epic poem about the Cuban Revolution. A co-production between Cuba and the Soviet Union the film is a visually stunning, politically explicit image of Batista’s Cuba. In slow, beautiful black and white images and with a special emphasis on natural sound we follow the paths of four protagonists struggling against the injustices of their time, revealing the roots of Castro’s revolution.

I Am Cuba will go on general release in January 2006. For more information: www.independentcinemaoffice.org.uk OR www.mrbongo.com

VIVA CUBA (dir. Juan Carlos Cremata, 2004) is the first Cuban film to have won an award at the Cannes Film Festival: The Grand Prix Écrans Juniors. It is a quirky, coming-of-age road movie which travels from one end of the island to the other, in which two children run away from home so that they won’t be separated by their parents. During the course of their journey, we not only learn about the importance of children’s feelings in an adult world but we also come to experience the multifaceted nature of Cuba’s landscape and population.

VAMPIRES IN HAVANA (dir. Juan Pedron, 1985) is an animated political satire showing the grotesque and humorous face of the city. Daytime Havana becomes a place of confrontation between American and Eastern European vampires who use a fantastic magic substance which lets them live in sunlight.

HAVANA SUITE (dir. Fernando Perez, 2003) has won several awards including a prize at San Sebastian Film Festival. A true city film, throbbing with the rich natural sounds, rhythm and imagery of Havana, and which follows 24 hours in the lives of a dozen marginalised, present-day Habaneros.

LA OLA (dir. Enrique Alvarez, 1995) is an ode to Havana as an insular city and the background for two lovers as they search for isolated corners to make love in.

NADA (dir. Juan Carlos Cremata, 2001) is the story of young post-office employee Carla, who believes in the possibility of poetry, true love and happiness even within the confinements of a bleak state-institution. Will she leave it all behind when given the unique chance to emigrate to the US?

MADAGASCAR (dir. Fernando Perez, 1994) has won awards at the Berlin, Havana, and Sundance Film Festivals. The film examines the divide between a mother and a daughter and contrasts the daughter’s aspirations for a perfect island with her mother’s take on reality. PLUS, the short film: FEMALE IS MY SOUL (dir. Lizette Vila). A group of Cuban trans-sexuals describe their individual search for sexual identity and their struggle for acceptance.

PORTRAIT OF TERESA (dir. Pastor Vega, 1979) winner of a Moscow International Film Festival Award, the film is an uncompromising, feminist film about the life of a woman in late 70s Communist Cuba. Worker, mother, wife and social leader Teresa struggles to achieve real freedom.


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