Screen Cuba – a celebration of Cuban films this spring
Campaign News | Friday, 26 January 2024
The doors will open at London’s Garden Cinema on 9 March for a Festival of Cuban Cinema. Screen Cuba: Films to Change the World is a celebration of the island’s remarkable cinematic achievements. It will feature a diverse selection of award-winning films, the participation of film specialists from Cuba, and a Gala Reception on 13 March. The Festival not only gives Cuban filmmakers a rare platform in the UK, it will also raise funds for projects of the Cuban Film Institute, ICAIC, such as the restoration of their classic films.
Screen Cuba opens with the classic comedy The Death of a Bureaucrat (1966) by the late Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, often cited as Cuba’s greatest director. The film, much loved by Cuban audiences, satirises how red tape in the revolution affects the everyday lives of its people. It traces the hilarious and often Kafka-esque efforts of a widow to recover a labour card – needed for benefits she is entitled to – from the pocket of her buried husband.
Another unmissable film in the Festival is the recently restored One Way or Another (1974). It is an outstanding example of politically engaged cinema by Sara Gómez, the first woman director of a feature film at ICAIC. Gómez incorporates music, documentary and newsreels to address themes of racial identity, class, and gender with passion and energy. Tragically, Gómez passed away aged 31, shortly before the film was completed, so it was finished by collaborators. The film will be accompanied by her fascinating short documentary …And we’ve got flavour (1967), which presents the origins of Afro Cuban music through a skilful mix of images, rhythms and sounds.
While Gomez’s unique films are difficult to categorise, a mainstay of Cuban cinema through the years has been the historical drama. The Life of Martí: The Eye of the Canary (2010) is an engaging account of the little-known early years of José Martí, the great nineteenth-century Cuban poet, father of Cuban independence and national hero. The film is a remarkable achievement of director Fernando Perez, one of the most highly respected filmmakers in Cuba today.
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea worked alongside Juan Carlos Tabío to create the multiple award-winning Strawberry and Chocolate (1993). Another ground-breaking film, it will be screened on the night of the Gala Reception. Exploring tolerance, inclusion, and homophobia with great humour, it affirmed an important right – that everyone should be able to participate equally in society and in the Revolution. This compelling film, nominated for an Oscar, had a deep impact on Cuban audiences, provoking widespread discussions and debate.
While homophobia is addressed in Strawberry and Chocolate, violence against women and girls is the focus of Supergal (2022), Cuba’s first ever animation superhero feature. Directed by Ernesto Piña, it tells the story of Yudeisi, a young chemistry teacher who becomes a superhero able to transform violent men by clarifying their thoughts. The animation format helps to establish a distance from a difficult topic, and with plenty of laughs.
A UK premiere, Tales of One More Day (2022) is the first co-production of the ICAIC with independent creative collectives. This award-winning film is under the general direction of Fernando Pérez. It presents six self-contained fictional shorts set during the pandemic. Each has its own young director, four of them women, which is an opportunity to view the work of contemporary women directors. This collective work tells stories of love, hate, sadness, loneliness and fear.
Havana Selfies (2019) is an urban comedy also told in six stories that form portraits of Havana, created by one director, Arturo Santana. The thread is an interrupted car trip through night-time Havana with a music soundtrack (by German Velazco) that reinforces the connections between the stories. Santana dedicated it to his city on its 500th birthday saying “I tried by every means, to be honest about my city that is the scene of all the things that I have done and all that I have not been able to do”.
Screen Cuba is also showing two stunning films not by Cuban directors but which place Cuban dance and music at the very heart of their productions. The award-winning feature film Yuli (2018), is inspired by the life of Carlos Acosta, one of the greatest dancers in Cuban ballet history. Directed by Iciar Bollaín with Paul Laverty as script writer, the film is noted for its music, cinematography and outstanding choreography. As Acosta commented when the film was released, the story captures “the triumph of a humble Cuban family, that can serve as a mirror for all Cubans who on a daily basis confront adversities.”
The Brothers (2020), directed by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider of Patchworks Films, tracks the lives of two Cuban brothers, both virtuoso musicians. Illmar López-Gavilán leaves Cuba for further tuition, ending up as a violinist in the US, while his younger brother Aldo wins recognition for his extraordinary talent as a classical and jazz pianist, but remains on the island. This documentary reveals the practical, and emotional, impact of the US blockade, seen through the lenses of one hugely talented family and magnificent music.
However, the core of the Festival is films produced on the island. Throughout the decades, home grown films have struck a strident chord in Cuba, with millions seeing films in cinemas across the country, as well as at video clubs and on TV. The impact on culture and politics there is testimony to the continuing vital role of ICAIC in supporting films that provoke, question, educate and entertain. We hope you enjoy them!
SUPPORT Screen Cuba
• Become a FESTIVAL SPONSOR If you or your organisation becomes an official sponsor by donating over £250, a range of benefits are available, including invitations to the official Festival Welcome Reception, Festival posters, your logo on the website and in the programme.
• Become a FRIEND OF THE FESTIVAL Join the Festival family by donating over £50. Your name will appear on the website and you will receive a Festival poster.
• DONATE to help bring Cuban film specialists to the UK for the festival in March 2024 and to support ICAIC’s film restoration projects in Cuba.
Send a cheque to CSC office, contact the office to pay by bank transfer or donate online at screencuba.uk/support