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NYC Film Festivals

Havana by Way of New York

Renny Arozarena as the title character in El Benny, one of the premieres at the eighth annual Havana Film Festival New York (Photo: HFFNY)

By Jessica Freeman-Slade

Opening today, the eighth annual Havana Film Festival New York showcases multiple perspectives of Latin American culture, featuring debuts by promising new filmmakers and premiering award-winners from festivals across Cuba, Puerto Rico and South America.

With films subtitled in English and many filmmakers on hand to introduce their own works, this year’s festival opens by paying tribute to Jorge Perugorria, Cuban artist and star of Strawberry and Chocolate and Guantanamera. Also featured in the festival is the premiere of El Benny, a biopic of Cuban singer Benny Moré, as well as the panel discussion Myth or Reality: The Latino Film Market in the United States, continuing the HFFNY’s interest in exploring Latin American film not only as a cinematic genre, but as a commercially viable industry with invested American audiences.

Ricardo Mendez-Matta, an assistant director for many English-language film directors including Andy Garcia and Ken Loach, brings his new film Ladrones y Mentirosos (Liars and Thieves), co-written with his wife, screenwriter Poli Marichal, with the direct aim of promoting it to Spanish-speaking viewers. “We were aiming at Latino audiences first,” Mendez-Matta told The Reeler via e-mail, “making sure that Puerto Ricans could see the film and recognize it as ... something truthful, where people act and speak like they do in real life."

Of Ladrones y Mentirosos, an examination of the aftereffects of the drug trade on three separate Puerto Rican households, Marichal added: “It’s been really gratifying for us to see that the film strikes a chord in the public no matter what ethnicity they belong to."

Some attending filmmakers, including director Eduardo Carrillo, came as award-winners from other mediums, specializing in documentary and animation. Carrillo’s film, Dios Los Junta Y Ellos Se Separan (God Creates Them and They Fall Apart) uses the visual breakdown of a photograph to investigate the collapse of a Colombian family. “One of the great things about animation is that you can condense actions in just one image," said Carrillo, who, like many filmmakers in this year’s festival, focuses on the nuclear family to illustrate a greater breakdown in society.

Almost all of the festival's screenings have an undercurrent of political fervor and activism, as shown in Rafael Rosal’s film Las Cruces (The Crossings), a loose adaptation of The Seven Samurai. As the founder of Casa Comal, a cultural organization allied with Guatemala’s government to foster the growth of national cinema, Rosal said he sees festivals such as HFFNY as the means to creating political debate and societal change through the exchange of artistic expression. “We have been a trigger to move the cultural arena in a postwar country, maybe because we have a humanist speech rather than an ideological position,” he said.

In this spirit of exchange, filmmakers from at least a dozen countries will attend screenings to encourage dialogue and the future of Latin American cinema. As Carillo said: “One of the great things about this community is the boom in which we can share ideas and experiences. And I think this is the greatest opportunity of the festival -- to share.”

The Havana Film Festival New York runs April 13-19 at the Quad Cinema, the Museum of the Moving Image, NYU and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For ticket and program information, visit the festival's Web site.

Posted at April 13, 2007 10:40 AM

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