Cuba Journal 2: U.S., Revolution and the Caribbean

The first day of the Havana Film Festival I was at the Hotel Nacional, registering for the festival, seeing familiar faces from Cuba and the Caribbean and old friends from the USA: Oleg Vidov and his wife Joan Borsten were there as Oleg who had starred in 3 Soviet films made in Cuba was an honored guest. Havana regulars were there: Marlene Dermer, director of Laliff and Laurie Anne Schag, VP of International Documentary Association. Laurie Anne not only gives tours of Cuba with her colleague Geo Darder, but this year she also screened her film at the festival, the documentary Oshun’s 11 about a tour of the Yoruba Orisha religion in Cuba.

Harlan Jacobson of Talk Cinema and Sarah Miller brought in tours as well and we went together to the Acapulco theater to see the Puerto Rican romantic heist movie Hope, Despair (La Espera Desespera) by writer/ director Coraly Santaliz Perez (♀) . Im Global’s Bonnie Voland the VP of Marketing was there with with Stuart Ford and his friend. Bonnie gave a great presentation on marketing which I will report on in these pages soon. Im Global and Mundial, their their new joint venture with Gael Garcia Bernal, showed The Butler and Bolivar: The Liberator. This new Mundial title was oddly programmed at the same time as the Venezuelan version of the exact same story, Bolivar, el hombre de las dificultades by Luis Alberto Lamata, a Venezuelan-Cuban-Spanish co-production. I wonder if both cinemas were packed or if one was more popular than the other. Publicity and marketing at this festival is a strange and unknown process, though I know Caroline Libresco-produced and Grace Lee-directed American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs brought in audience after a radio interview with Caroline and Grace had aired.

Ruby Rich was also here giving a very interesting presentation on Queer Cinema whose historical roots (Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman) were mostly unknown to the young Cuban audience. She is an old hand in Havana, having attended the festival in the heady days of the 1970s. The theme of homosexuality was prevalent in many of the films this year. A government Institute of Human Sexuality has been established under the leadership of the daughter of Raul Castro, and Cuba has apologized for its past treatment of homosexuality. This reversal has opened the doors of freedom. Filmmaker Enrique Pineda Barnet, the writer of Soy Cuba, the great Russian-Cuban epic, used to have to work underground with his personal homosexual films (After his fame was established with La Bella del Alhambra he was “allowed” to work underground). He is now able to be officially accepted with his works like Verde, Verde which showed in the Festival. Venezuelan Miguel Ferrari’s Azul y no tan rosa was feted for his treatment of this little-discussed issues in his home country.

Enrique Pineda Barnet’s meditation on what it means to be gay in Havana (Verde, Verde) marks his first film in years to be accepted into the official festival.

The U.S. invitees who give workshops here and at the international film school Eictv makes me wonder who is making the connections and how. Last year Hawk Koch and Annette Benning were here and created a support mechanism of AMPAS with the festival. This year, aside from Oleg Vidov Bonnie Voland and Ruby Rich, other American invitees giving workshops included Robert Kraft (Avatar, Titanic, Moulin Rouge) on film music was obviously brought in by the Academy. Mike S. Ryan, an independent filmmaker from New York was the big surprise as we never knew his role as producer of such films as Todd Solondz’s Palindromes and Life During Wartime, Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Ira Sach’s Forty Shades of Blue, Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim and many more including Liberty Kid, the winner of HBO’s Latino Film Festival 2007 and Bela Tarr’s final film, The Turin Horse. His newly finished film is Last Weekend starring Patricia Clarkson and Zachary Booth. This Independent Spirit “Producer of the Year” winner was here working with filmmakers at Eictv, the international film school and also did a presentation in the festival conference series.

Im Global’s Stuart Ford and friend with Bonnie Voland at the Hotel Nacional

Oliver Stone, a favorite of Cuba since his HBO films Comandante and Persona Non Grata, brought in a History Channel doc series called The Untold History of the United States, made up basically of interviews with key people in the eras of World War II: Roosevelt, Truman and Wallace [sic],The Bomb, Cold War: Truman, Wallace [sic], Stalin, Churchill and the Bomb, The 1950s: Eisenhower, The Bomb and The Third World.

A fruit vendor on our walk to the Infanta Theater

Laurie Anne Schag secured radio promotion for Caroline Libresco of Sundance Institute and Grace Lee, here as a producer and director to show their new film: American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. The audience at the Infanta Theater was mainly brought in by the radio show but also included us, the friends, and the Trinidad + Tobago delegation. The Q&A sessions were informed and informative as the Cubans and Americans discussed the notion of Revolution as put forward by Grace Lee Boggs a 90+ year old community organizer who came out of Barnard College in the 40s to Detroit and has never abandoned her Marxist Socialist standards but recognizes that social revolution can only succeed if the people themselves are revolutionized from grassroots action and within the individuals carrying out the action. Without transformation from within, action to change the government is only a rebellion. So what about the Cuban Revolution? The discussions were very enlightening and the audience felt that this film was new and interesting.

I attended the first of four screenings of Caribbean films hosted by ttff (Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival) at the Infanta Theater. My readers know from my blogs of last November how astonished and moved I was by the population makeup of Trinidad + Tobago and of the Caribbean in general. This area of small islands, formerly colonized by Spanish, French, German and Dutch has created a particular island culture society whose film culture is taking the next evolutionary step. Forming a marketplace and a place of cultural exchange among its constituents, ttff’s director Bruce Paddington is working with Cuba’s national film organization, Icaic’s Luis Notario to develop a real film market for Caribbean film. Apropos, Bruce was also showing his documentary on the Revolution in Grenada, called Foreward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution, which was the motto of Maurice Bishop the elected president who was forcefully removed and murdered by the opposition when the U.S. army under the Commander-in-Chief, President Ronald Reagan sent in forces presumably to protect the American medical students attending medical school there in 1983.

Twenty-five Cubans were also killed in the fighting which ensued on this otherwise always peaceful island where now a reconciliation among neighbors is still in process.

The other four screenings of ttff were varied and interesting in their unique Caribbean points of view. The opening film, Poetry is an Island: Derek Walcott was a portrait of the St. Lucia poet and Nobel Prize winner for literature. The short film, Passage, by Kareem Mortimer, a filmmaker I have known for many years from the Bahamas and Trinidad, was astounding in its recall of one of the most degrading aspects of the slave trade, as black Haitians huddled in the tiny hold of a decrepit fishing boat as they were smuggled into Florida from Haiti. Another short, Auntie, from the Barbados by Lisa Harewood told of a current social issue in which “Aunts” take care of young children while their single mothers go abroad to earn money for their care. As the child in this movie reaches her teen years, her mother sends for her which leaves a grieving single woman “Auntie” alone with no thanks and no child to care for in her older years. Other shorts included The Gardener by Jo Henriquez from Aruba and One Good Deed by Juliette McCawley from Trinidad + Tobago.

The window on Caribbean issues was opened wide. The Barbados comedy Payday in which two friends decide to leave their job as security guards and open their own business was made on a shoe string but gave a picture of how the youth are living today with ganga, grinding dancing, sexy encounters told with a sweet mischievous naughtiness. Songs of Redemption, by Miquel Galofre and Amanda Sans, winner of ttff’s Jury Prize and the Audience Award goes inside what had been Kingston Jamaica’s worst prison until the new prison director introduced classes to educate the prisoners, including a music rehabilition program which goes beyond all expectation… Truly redeeming.

Trinidad + Tobago filmmakers Karim Mortimer from Bahamas, Lisa Harewood from Barbaddos, Alex (Egyptian/ Austrian / Bahamanian business partner of Karim, Shakira Bourne

The film program was suspended for a full day in which all cultural and entertainment events throughout Cuba were cancelled to observe a national day of mourning for Nelson Mandela.
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