A scene from Venecia (Venice), 2014, by Kiki Álvarez
Courtesy HFFNY

This Thursday, April 9, the opening-night red carpet unrolls on the 16th Havana Film Festival New York—and with it, some of the island’s most talked-about features and documentaries.

Four Cuban features are competing in the Best Fiction Film category, among them the opening night selection, Boccaccerías Habaneras / Boccaccio in Havana (Arturo Sotto, 2014), which picked up a Best Screenplay award at the International Festival of New Latin American Film in Havana this past December. In the film, three stories are anchored by a common link: the room of an author with writer’s block, who buys people’s stories.

Boccaccerías Habaneras, 2014, by Arturo Sotto
Courtesy HFFNY

The other Cuban features in the Best Fiction competition include La Pared de las Palabras / The Wall of Words (Fernando Pérez, 2014), about the stresses that a family must cope with when one of their siblings becomes disabled, and Venecia / Venice (Kiki Álvarez, 2014), an affectionate portrait of female friendship from the director of last year’s hit, Jirafas / Giraffes (2012) and, as noted in the trailer below, the first Cuban film produced through crowdsourcing. The fourth Cuban feature in the category, Vestido de Novia / His Wedding Dress (Marilyn Solaya, 2014), was inspired by an earlier documentary by the director, about a couple in which the wife is transsexual. (See trailer below.) As with Boccacerías Habaneras and Venezia, the HFFNY screenings are the film’s New York premiere.

A fifth fiction film, Contigo, pan y cebolla (Juan Carlos Cremata, 2014) will be shown out of competition as a special presentation. A comedy set in Havana of the 1950s, it follows the exploits of a housewife determined to achieve her heart’s desire: a new refrigerator.

In the Best Documentary category, Otra isla / Another Island (Heidi Hassan, 2012) follows an exiled Cuban family who, arriving in Spain, find capitalism not quite what they imagined, and end up camping on a plaza in Madrid. The second entry in this category, Omara: Cuba (Lester Hamlet, 2015) makes its world premiere at the festival. A loving portrait and tribute to Omara Portuondo, “the diva of the Buena Vista Social Club,” the film includes appearances by Chucho Valdés, Pablo Milanes, and many others.

Otra isla (Another Island), 2012, by Heidi Hassan
Courtesy HFFNY

As with recent festivals, film scholar Luciano Castillo, director of the Cuban Film Archives, is presenting a series of classic films—in this case, anchored by a 50th-anniversary celebration of Nosotros, la música / We, the Music, the 1964 feature-length documentary by Rogelio Paris featuring such iconic performers as Bola de Nieve, Celeste Mendoza, and the Ignacio Piñiero Septet. In addition to Nosotros, la música, the three-program series includes short films about Celeste Mendoza, the quartet Los Zafiros, and Bola de Nieve.

A second retrospective series, “Gabriel García Márquez, the Cinephile,” pays tribute to the late Colombian author and a founder of Cuba’s International School of Film and Television (EICTV) in San Antonio de los Baños. The series presents a selection of films that García Márquez was involved with, directly or indirectly, including Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cartas del parque / Letters from the Park (1988). The series also includes the documentary Conversando con García Márquez sobre su amigo Fidel / A Conversation with García Márquez About His Friend Fidel (Estela Bravo, 2014).

Cartas del parque (Letters from the Park), 1988, by Tomás Guttiérez Alea
Courtesy festlatinosp.com.br

Other special presentations include “Cuba: New Film Generation,” a program of short films by young Cuban filmmakers, and a program of films for kids. A panel discussion, “New opportunities and incentives to shoot your indie movie in Latin America and NY State,” precedes “Cuba: New Film Generation.”

Most of the festival screenings take place at the Quad Cinema in Lower Manhattan, but there are also several screenings at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, the King Juan Carlos Center at NYU, the SVA Theater on West 23rd Street, and other locations. The festival kicked off with a warm-up screening of Rumba Clave Blen Blen Blen, a history of rumba in New York, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts late last month.

The 16th Havana Film Festival New York runs from Thursday, April 9 through Friday, April 17. For program information, schedule, and tickets, see the festival website.

The trailer for Venecia.