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.
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.
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.