December in Cuba: The Havana Film Festival


cartelIt is December. Winter is already upon us. Cold fronts cross the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits, and hit Havana’s Malecon, or sea wall, creating an impressive spectacle of breaking waves, crashing against the Malecon and turning into foam.

December is also the time of year for movie lovers. The Havana Film Festival, or more properly, the International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema starts in the first week of December. This year it will be the 37th edition of the Festival, from December 3rd to the 13th.

23 feature films will be contesting for awards, and 3 more will be shown out of the contest, all from Latin America, or dealing with Latin American subjects. Also over 50 documentaries and short fiction films will be shown.

For the Cubans, it’s party time, but a party that is quite unique. It´s the opportunity for watching good quality cinema, maybe even pictures that will never be shown again on the screens or on TV. So everybody wants to go to the movies. Big crowds, long lines, sometimes rowdy pushing and shoving, since nobody wants to be left out of the darkened room. During the Film Festival you can really see that Cubans love movies.

For many years, while travel bans and lack of opportunities made Cuba a really hard to visit place, the Film Festival was one of the few moments when Americans could travel to Havana and enjoy mingling with the crowds, and sharing good times at the movies.

For those of us who used to work as filmmakers, technicians or even administrative workers in the Cuban Movie Industry, it was a chance to share experiences with our colleagues from Hollywood, and New York, New Orleans, and Chicago, anywhere there was a motion picture production center in the US, somebody would surely come to Havana for the Festival.

There are also real wild parties: Dance music, dinner receptions, cocktail parties for all the official participants. Foreign tourists will find themselves in the midst of all this, mostly taking place in the fabulous gardens of Hotel Nacional, a 1930 structure with Moorish tiles and mahogany beams, sitting on a bluff overlooking the Malecon, where late at night, or even in the wee hours of the morning, you’ll find revelers watching the waves crash into foam against the sea wall.