There are some events that become traditions. They fill a space so naturally that you cannot help but notice how void that space was before.
This may seem overly romantic but that is the feeling that many people have had during the first fortnight in December for almost thirty years. In those two weeks, the annual Havana Film Festival takes place.
Havana and the festival are so closely linked that there is no way to imagine them apart. During those days in December, whether it is sunny, rainy or unseasonably hot, the streets of Havana are buzzing with activity. The lines in front of movie theatres appear and peopleget ready, mentally and physically, for the upcoming marathon. It starts at 10:00 am with hours and hours of movies. Movies in many languages, from many regions of the world, full of strange problems and issues, or others clearly recognizable in the context of our time and society.
People from all over Cuba and from other countries, with their packs ready for a long stay, come to Havana for this event lasting eleven days.
Once Upon a Time 40 Years Ago
Viña del Mar, Chile, 1967. A group of intellectuals of the Latin American vanguard gather to talk about cinema. They discuss what they have in common: the continent's difficult circumstances and their ideas regarding moviemaking. The group becomes a movement called the "New Latin American Cinema." They meet two years later but for the last time in Chile. A decade later, in 1979, one of those men, Alfredo Guevara then president of the Cuban institute of Cinema Art and Industry, summons them again. Many answer the call. They meet in Havana with many ideas and dreams and start the festival's tradition.
The first events were only for movie people and mostly closed to the public. Cuban natives love festivals and their passion for big events can be quite contagious. Slowly but steadily, crowds took over the event and movie theatres. Organizers stood up to the challenge and the Festival started growing with each passing year. More industry representatives, more movies, more crowds. Half a million Cubans now hit the streets and movie theatres. It is something unstoppable. Now, December is more than another month, Havana, more than just another city.
An Ageless Festival
The 29th annual International New Latin American Film Festival of Havana that was held from the 4th to the 14th of December, 2007, celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first meeting in Viña del Mar. People who were used to big names and famous stars might have been a little disconcerted. With this year's event came a wave of new young moviemakers who took traditional themes and modernized them, using their experiences and knowledge to create a new language in Latin American cinema.
After touring most of the major international film festivals and facing the challenges of presenting their work at more publicized events such as the Oscars or the Spanish Goya movie awards, many brought their works to the Cuban people and Festival visitors.
Once again, the largest contributors were from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba. Countries with more ﬂedgling industries, like Bolivia, Uruguay, and Puerto Rico, also brought some movies. The existential and social conﬂicts shown in their art provided examples of the region's diversity and interconnections.
One novelty of the Festival was the birth, after twenty years of countless theoretical approaches, of the international Forum on Childhood and its Audiovisual Universe. This Forum gave an overview of the situation for children around the world and, appealingly, showed a selection of movies for children which, for the first time, were given an official award at the Festival.
From other regions
The Festival is not only for Latin America. Movies from Canada, Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom, Romania, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, China, Egypt, Nigeria, and the United States filled the screens in Havana. They made people cry, laugh, contemplate, and fantasize.
Art and experimental cinema together with internationally released movies arrived to the Cuban capital to show us what other people were watching. In the end, the movie critic within each Cuban made their own selection.
Most of the people went to see as many movies as possible and to fill their "tanks" until next December.
Why would not they? As French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry said,"the heart needs rites."
There were many prizes awarded at the 29th Havana Film Festival. The big winner was Carlos Reygadas of Mexico for his Luz silenciosa (Silent Light), which won the Coral Prize for Best Film. The film also won for Best Direction, Photography, and Sound.
Cao Hamburger from Brazil won the second place Coral Prize for El año que mis padres estuvieron de vacaciones(The Year My Parents Were On Vacation).
Ariel Rotter from Argentina received the third place Coral Prize for El Otro (The Other). For his leading part in this film, Julio Chávez won the Coral Prize for Best Actor.
Cuban Fernando Pérez won the Special Jury Coral for Madrigal and for Best Art Direction.
The Best Female Performance was delivered by Roxana Blanco for her part in Marar a todos (Kill Everybody).
Awards for best debut features were given to Brazilian Chico Teixeira for La casa de Alice (Alice's House), Mexican Aarón Fernández Lesur for Partes usadas (UsedParts), and Cuban Alejandro Brugués for Personal Belongings.
The Audience Coral Prize was awarded to the movie El clavel negro (The Black Pimpernel) by Ulf Hultberg and Asa Faringer for its depiction of the commitment to justice of the Swedish Ambassador in Chile during the1973 coup d'état.
Among the guests invited to the festival were actors Javier Bardem from Spain, Hanna Schygulla from Germany, and Fito Páez (as musician and moviemaker) from Argentina. Actors Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna went behind the camera to produce and direct their own films. Bernal presented Déficit and Luna JC Chávez.