The annual Havana Film Festival New York offers New Yorkers a rare opportunity to view recent productions from Cuba, as well as other Latin American countries. This year, sixteen films from ten countries will compete for the Havana Star Prizes (for Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, and Documentary), including six Cuban productions.

The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste García
Courtesy TIFF.

The official festival opening takes place on Tuesday, April 9, at the SVA Theatre, with a screening of the sci-fi fantasy, The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste García (Cuba, Germany, 2018), the directorial debut of Cuban screenwriter Arturo Infante. A former teacher and now a guide at the Havana Planetarium, Celeste García longs for a more fulfilling life, so when aliens land in Cuba and offer earthlings a chance to visit their planet, she is persuaded to sign up. The film stars Maria Isabel Diaz as Celeste and Omar Franco as a fellow traveler who pays court to Celeste. Mr. Franco will be present for the screening.

Other Cuban fiction films in competition include:

Nido de Mantis / Mantis’ Nest
Courtesy Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

Nido de Mantis / Mantis’ Nest (Cuba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, 2018), directed by Arturo Sotto, is a story of love, jealousy, and betrayal, set in the village of Siboney. A love triangle, involving two men and a woman, that lasted forty years culminates in 1994 when the three are found dead. A young woman, the daughter of this triangle, is accused of murder and she attempts to prove her innocence.

Innocence
Courtesy Escambray

Inocencia / Innocence (Cuba, 2018), directed by Alejandro Gil, was awarded the Premio Coral at the recent Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana. Based on real events that took place in 19th-century Havana, where a class of first-year medical students is sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. For sixteen years, one of their cellmates, Fermín Valdés Domínguez, struggles to prove their innocence, when suddenly a new clue emerges.

The Return
Courtesy IMDB.

El regreso /The Return (Cuba, 2018), directed by Alberto Luberta and Blanca Rosa Blanco. Blanca Rosa Blanco plays a detective who helped convict a man she now believes was unjustly accused. After learning of his death and the release of a letter declaring his innocence, she travels to his home town to try to uncover the truth. There she also encounters her former lover.

The Documentary category includes two additional films produced in Cuba:

Eliades Ochoa: From Cuba to the World
Courtesy Miami Film Festival.

Eliades Ochoa: De Cuba para el mundo / From Cuba to the World (Cuba, Mexico, 2019), directed by Cynthia Biestek, recounts the history of legendary guitarist, Eliades Ochoa, and his love of traditional Cuban folk music. The story unfolds with rare photographs, archival material, and new interviews revealing a rich musical heritage.

Entre un tango y un danzón / Between a Tango and a Danzón (Cuba, USA, 2018), directed by Marta Bautis. Filmed in Havana, Matanzas, and Gibara, this documentary explores the cultural and historical influences of the tango and the danzón, Cuba’s national dance. It also reveals efforts to revitalize the danzón and attract young people to this genre.

Closing Event with Carlos Acosta. The festival wraps up on Tuesday, April 16, with the New York premiere of Yuli (Spain, Cuba, Germany, UK, 2018), directed by Spanish filmmaker and actress Iciar Bollain, with screenplay by Paul Laverty. Yuli is based on the life of internationally renowned dancer Carlos Acosta, who was born into a poor family in Havana, educated at the Cuban National Ballet School, and became a principal dancer and choreographer at London’s Royal Ballet. The screening will be preceded by a VIP cocktail party fundraiser to benefit the International Performing Arts Foundation, co-sponsor of the event with the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation. Following the screening, a celebratory Fiesta Cubana, with food and music, will honor Mr. Acosta, who will be present for the evening’s events.

Special Events. In addition to the films in competition, the festival is also presenting a series of Special Events, with additional film screenings and guests:

Insumisas
Courtesy Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

An Homage to Fernando Pérez will feature several of this celebrated director’s outstanding films, including his first film, Clandestinos (1987), that starred Isabel Santos and Luis Alberto García as young anti-Batista revolutionaries who risk their lives running a clandestine printing press. His award-winning Suite Habana (2003) is a city-symphony documentary that depicts a day in the life of ordinary Cubans. And the centerpiece of the festival will be Pérez’ latest production, Insumisas (Cuba, Switzerland, 2018), codirected with Laura Cazador. In this historical drama, based on a true story, a young Swiss doctor, Enriqueta Faber, arrives in Cuba, dressed as a man. As Enrique, she enters into a marriage with a young woman of humble background. Enriqueta’s antislavery convictions are controversial and when her masquerade is revealed, it results in a scandalous trial.

Havana on Film celebrates the capital’s architecture with a cinematic retrospective honoring the city’s 500th anniversary. A highlight of the program is the restored classic by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Memorias del subdesarrollo / Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), based on a novel by Edmundo Desnoes who also co-wrote the screenplay. Mr. Desnoes will be present to discuss the film. The program will also include a series of recently restored documentaries by Santiago Álvarez (1919-1998), one of Cuba’s foremost documentarians.

Rigoberto López (1947-2019)
Courtesy ACN.

A Memorial Tribute to Rigoberto López (1947-2019), whose documentaries celebrated Cuban culture, will include his Yo soy del son a la salsa (1997), co-written with Leonardo Padura, which traces the history of Cuban music.

By Women for Women: Latinas Spark Change. An emphasis this year is on films by or about women, both behind the camera and on screen. On April 13, the festival will host a roundtable discussion with filmmakers Ana Katz, Marta Bautís, Natalia Cabral, Olivia Luengas, Blanca Rosa Blanco, and Margo Guernsey.

The festival will also showcase indigenous voices speaking out against injustices, and a program of short films promoting cross-Caribbean conversations with New Yorkers in Havana and Latinos in New York, including Kavery Kaul’s Cuban Canvas (15 min., 2018, USA) which includes interviews with artists Manuel Mendive, Rocio Garcia, and Roberto Diago.

The Havana Film Festival New York is a project of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba (AFLFC), a nonprofit organization building cultural bridges between the U.S. and Cuba through arts programming. Carole Rosenberg is president of the AFLFC. Diana Vargas has been HFFNY’s Artistic Director and Programmer since 2003.

The principal festival screening venue this year is the AMC Loews 34th Street Theater. The Opening Night event will take place at the SVA Theatre, 323 W. 23rd St., and the Closing Night screening takes place at the Directors Guild Theater, 110 West 57th Street. Special events and additional screenings are scheduled at institutions around the city, including the Museum of the Moving Image, Queens, and the New York Institute of Technology.

For schedule, ticketing, and detailed film information, visit the Havana Film Festival New York website.

Nadine Covert is a specialist in visual arts media with a focus on documentaries. She was for many years the Executive Director of the Educational Film Library Association (EFLA) and Director of its American Film Festival, then the major documentary competition in the U.S. She later became director of the Program for Art on Film, a joint venture of the J. Paul Getty Trust and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Covert has served on the board of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, and is currently a consultant to the Montreal International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA).