The 44th Havana Film Festival Took to the Streets


By Jennifer Ruth Hosek

HAVANA TIMES – The 44th edition of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema taking place in Habana from 8 to 17 December seeks to bring cinema to a broader public–by bringing movies into the streets. Under the Festival’s slogan “Green Light: Action!” The Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) created a “cinema district.” Avenue 23 was closed between Streets 10 and 12, in front of the film industry’s iconic headquarters. Car traffic made way for an open-air screen and stage extending across this main thoroughfare with seating for over a 100, as well as concession stands, plenty of standing room, and auxiliary stages for various events including cinema for children.

Opening night on the crosswalk stage featured the now-beloved classic Tomas Gutierrez Alea y Juan Carlos Tabío’s Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate) (1993), celebrating its 30-year anniversary, and Ernesto Daranas’s hard-hitting feature Los díos rotos (Fallen Gods) (2008) that took many prizes at the 2008 Festival. Bands known for movie soundtracks also performed live. This public event started at dusk outside of Cine Chaplin, Cuba’s premiere art cinema, which was hosting the strictly invitation-only official inauguration with Chile’s Oscar selection Los colonos (2023) and a live band rendering the classic Festival musical leitmotiv.

This inside-outside scenario made for an inadvertent test of privilege and community. The internationally ubiquitous white plastic chairs—many labelled “reserved”—remained empty for some time despite standing onlookers. Slowly, these average movie goers dared to sit comfortably to enjoy the show. When Chaplin’s invited guests including young Cuban filmmakers, foreign filmmakers, and national and international nomenclatura spilled out of the cinema, those drawn to the outdoor event remained standing behind the seated viewers in front.

The peaceful crowd ranging from what looked to be fashionable students to families with toddlers to well-known local directors and personalities to bicyclists-turned-movie viewers to roughshod local senior citizens who had wandered into the sea of chairs looking for their next drink made for a contemporary ajiaco à la Ortiz. Privileged, El Vedado nevertheless (still?!) presents very well against most public places in Latin and North America for safety and camaraderie.

The heterogeneous crowd exuded mutual respect and easy-going, light gregariousness. An older Cuban barrio resident was politely holding chairs for four “Palestinos” who had gone to find dinner. He was not deploying the Habanero term for eastern Cubans transplants; these were actual Palestinians who are studying medicine at ELAM. The excited band leader wanted to be sure that the policed safety barrier at the corner of 10 and 23 was not keeping eager but unwanted public out. It was not. He asked for any song from the public. They asked for love songs and classics. Toddlers danced with parents, parents with parents, teens near each other.

That night indeed brought cinema to the streets, although perhaps not without complaint. Earlier in the week, a driver of a late-night Gazelle minibus swore mightily to a policeman enforcing the detour. Such irritation among economically overwhelmed Cubans is part of why ICAIC has decided to try a return to the open-air cinema tradition of the 1960s and 1970s. The 7th Art is supposed to dialogue with the people, as ICAIC’s current president told me. The weather that started off supportive seemed downright dissenting in later days, as heavy rains forced outdoor screens to be tucked under porticos and put away entirely, not to mention tragically flooding out parts of Alamar on the east side of the capital. The climate change happening everywhere is adding to the difficulties here, including in the cultural domain.

Most of Cuba’s full-length works were co-p

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