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Cuba and the Miami Film Festival

Whistle Life is to Whistle (La vida es silbar), which was shown at the Miami Film Festival in 2000, was the first Cuban feature film ever shown at the festival. It was also the last film made in Cuba shown at the event that I have liked.

The screening caused a bit of controversy the year it was shown. Here are a few graphs from an indieWire piece written at the time:

Life is to Whistle, a Cuban entry, also made the front page of the Miami Herald and caused the Miami-Dade County to withdraw $49,000 in grants from the Festival. Why? A Herald reporter discovered the film violated a Miami-Dade ordinance forbidding any group receiving county grants from showcasing Cuban artists or their works. After all the recent protests about Elian Gonzalez, chaos was expected at the screening. Some streets were blocked off and cops, who were not as attractive as the NYPD, stood watch. Nothing happened though. No demonstrations, no bomb threats and no hurled epithets.

There might be a positive consequence, however. Rene Rodriguez in The Herald surmised that "Life is to Whistle makes the strongest case to date that it's time for the ordinance to be overhauled to include an exemption, even if it's on a case-by-case basis, for cultural events. The movie is a perfect example of how artistic expression cannot be categorized by politics alone." That's certainly true here especially since Life is to Whistle is about three people who are miserable with their lives in Cuba, with one planning to escape in a balloon. This one couldn't have made Castro a happy camper.

3617_3 Apparently, Cuba also makes festival organizers a little jittery, since the festival opted not to screen Vivien Lesnik Weisman's The Man of Two Havanas, her documentary about her father Max Lesnik, who is a polarizing figure among Miami's Cuban community. I blogged about the movie last May when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

I also wrote a feature story about the film for The Herald, which ended up being reprinted in the pages of Granma. Wait, does getting published in Granma make me a Commie?

Ana Menendez wrote a column yesterday explaining why the movie isn't being shown at this year's festival. Festival organizers are not being entirely honest about their reasons, but whatever. I have no doubt the movie will make it here sooner or later.

Belongings Meanwhile, the festival did bring us another Cuban movie to enjoy. Here's my review of Personal Belongings (Objetos personales), which is showing at the festival tonight. It is safe to say Whistle remains my favorite Cuban film to screen at the festival to date.

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Walter Lippmann

It's really a shame that, because of Washington's ban against travel to Cuba, Washington's refusal to allow Cubans to visit the United States, and the Miami film festival's refusal to show films from the the island, that Miami viewers are denied the opportunity to see films like the ones described in this article published prominently in Cuba just ONE WEEK AGO.
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Seventh Festival of New Filmmakers
On censorship, love and other demons

By: Frank Padrón
E-mail: cult@jrebelde.cip.cu
March 1, 2008 - 00:45:42 GMT

http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs1800.html
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann. Original:
http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/cultura/2008-03-01/de-la-censura-el-amor-y-otros-demonios/

Already in its seventh year, the Festival of New Filmmakers has confirmed once again that, people’s assertions to the contrary, our young filmmakers are not «cinema’s successors», but its perpetuators as guarantors of a talented breed bent on a will to do and say things out of step (with dogmatic tendencies, material deprivation, preconceptions...).
Cartel del polémico documental Zona de silencio, de Karen Ducasse.Poster of Karen Duchase’s controversial documentary
Zona de Silencio (Silent Zone)

Some of the films in competition have already set many tongues wagging and fueled debate, the best reward any work of art could ask for. That’s the case of Karen Ducasse’s Zona de silencio, about the ever thorny and controversial topic of censorship, based on the views of several intellectuals whose experience and sharpness were deemed invaluable to this project. Writers Antón Arrufat and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, singer Frank Delgado, film director Fernando Pérez, and critic Gustavo Arcos helped clear the way to explain the scope and limits of censorship, which overhangs creation like the «sword of Damocles»; where and how (self)censorship starts to play its role therein; a censor’s yardstick; its relevance in a society such as ours… just to name a few of the questions the director levels at the interviewees, who ask themselves the same things –together with the audience– without either «last words» or absolute positions. Their tour around our past and present boasts the fluency and serenity of a profound examination free of any hysterical or bitter grudge which –as we know only too well– often mars the fairness and strength of our ideas.

Carried around most of the time, Ducasse’s camera is as dynamic and unconventional as the rest of the discourse, albeit repetitious to the point of annoyance: rather than being authentically functional, the changing colors, the boldness of some frames and takes, and the joke about the little «censorial» ring border on self-admiration, unlike a number of smart probes which –for all the dialogues, lines and moments in the history of Cuban cinema that they put out of context– provide exceptional support to the story and do justice to an effective editing, also noticeable in the alternation and flow of the interviews.

This Zona de silencio is no doubt more eloquent and necessary than all the hardly convincing shrieking which conveys little or nothing.

Another very suggestive documentary was Susana Barriga’s fourteen-minute-long movie Patria (Homeland), which poses some important questions using a rather «silent» speech: for the last five years, a young man has been trying to open up a path through the wood in a quite out-of-the-way spot of the Cuban countryside. It’s the only textual information the audience receives, and near the end of the film to boot, but not before plenty of more explicit shots of the guy’s facial expressions, where boredom and discouragement take turns to no end. The lack of motivation to work, a life stripped of any (e)motion, and disappointments by the cartload may well lead to such a pickle, all the more reason for us to pay careful attention now that we’re heading for unavoidable changes and a process of improvement and restructuring. Director Barriga’s bleak takes, her forays into other «silent zones» and a subtle editing work shore up the film’s ideography.

Within more traditional boundaries is Jesús Miguel Hernández’s Ella trabaja (She works), about the occasionally but still insufficiently addressed topic of transvestism in Cuba: as made quite clear by the interviewees’ graphic testimony, the new subjects can and should join the efforts to develop our society while they fulfill themselves as social beings, which goes way beyond the specific details of this issue. Among «the others», even those who have the best intentions harbor prejudice and misunderstanding (calling their leanings «a flaw», for example, remains a regular feature in urgent need of clarification and neutralization).

But fiction never falls behind when it comes to bold stories and initiation into no less troublesome areas of social life: Milena Almira’s short film El grito (The scream) undermines the time-honored views of feminists and male chauvinists –mainly on erotic matters. Its sense of irony and surprise never strives for effect; rather, it strikes up a lively conversation with the audience and helps them get rid of evil spirits who might have taken hold of our bodies and be living in them, unbeknownst to us.

Director laureate Patricia Ramos (Nana) came with El patio de mi casa (My backyard), where she once again dives in –and draws us into– the need of dreaming –and daydreaming– and of the (im)possible worlds that a dreamlike experience often brings along: a young homemaker, fed up with both family and the tediousness of housework, takes every minute of sleep she can steal from her daily routine to get into a delicious communication with other realities.

Minimalist in her artistic, crystal-clear expressionism, Ramos gets her bearings on also-laureate Lily Suárez’s colorful, probing photography, sprung from a camera work which speaks for itself –say, by chocking the wakefulness-sleep condition with various patinae and focal lengths– and a set of well-groomed performances (especially main character Beatriz Viñas’s) to cast another warm vote in favor of dreaming’s values in every sense, a reminder of another excellent short movie we’ve seen before: El sueño de Freddy (Freddy’s dream), by Waldo Ramírez.

As a rule in these moviemakers’ gatherings, animation provides an opportunity to check any new, fine directions taken by the genre. Hence Javier Cuéllar’s Cablefacción and his style –to be reckoned with– of mixing different, albeit effective, animation «materials» to extend the operating radius of conventional formats and leave behind a number of otherwise outmoded techniques for the benefit of new achievements, all in a mere four minutes of good humor and narrative simplicity.

After such a good start, the Seventh Festival of New Filmmakers is very likely to have more surprises in store for us. What we’ve seen so far, however, is a nice shot in the arm and cause for confidence in our opening words: our young filmmakers are nobody’s successors or replacements, but the continuators –and by leaps and bounds at that– as they keep alight the flame, even if more often than not their fingers get burned in the process.

---ooOoo---

Bobbi Miller-Moro

See the real Cuba.

Saturday, September 6th, 2008; Join us at a special one time only film screening event. See three extraordinary films shot on location in Havana, Cuba. The filmmakers bring to the big screen a world of undeniable passionate love, political warfare, deceit and terrorism with soulfully freeing Cuban music.

Cuba's Love and Suicide, the movie: The first and only feature film in 50 years to be shot in Havana, Cuba by American filmmakers. A love story of a man who goes to Cuba and discovers the one thing between love and suicide.

The Man of Two Havana's, a documentary film: Based on the life of Max Lesnik, we journey into a true story of terrorism, deception, bombing and political warfare that still controls a country called Cuba.

Havana KidZ, a music documentary: Imagine the Buena Vista Social Club as kids. See the new generation of young Cuban musicians as they defy all obstacles to bring a new era of music to the world.

These film will transport you into the heart, soul and underbelly of what Cuba is, who Cubans are, and the eternal relationship to America that connects us all.
www.EverythingCuba.com

Bobbi Miller-Moro

See the real Cuba.

Saturday, September 6th, 2008; Join us at a special one time only film screening event. See three extraordinary films shot on location in Havana, Cuba. The filmmakers bring to the big screen a world of undeniable passionate love, political warfare, deceit and terrorism with soulfully freeing Cuban music.

Cuba's Love and Suicide, the movie: The first and only feature film in 50 years to be shot in Havana, Cuba by American filmmakers. A love story of a man who goes to Cuba and discovers the one thing between love and suicide.

The Man of Two Havana's, a documentary film: Based on the life of Max Lesnik, we journey into a true story of terrorism, deception, bombing and political warfare that still controls a country called Cuba.

Havana KidZ, a music documentary: Imagine the Buena Vista Social Club as kids. See the new generation of young Cuban musicians as they defy all obstacles to bring a new era of music to the world.

These film will transport you into the heart, soul and underbelly of what Cuba is, who Cubans are, and the eternal relationship to America that connects us all.
www.EverythingCuba.com

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