A still from Sergio y Serguéi (Sergio and Sergei), this year’s HFFNY opening-night film.
Courtesy Havana Film Festival New York

As New Yorkers do their best to put a snowy winter behind them, the 19th Havana Film Festival New York brings a welcome blast of Caribbean warmth to the city, starting this Friday, April 6.

This year’s festival presents 13 features and documentaries from ten countries, including three Cuban productions, all competing for the festival’s Havana Star prizes. Along with films in competition, the festival takes a close look at Cuban cinema with a program of special events and appearances by noted actors and directors.

After several days of screenings at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Museum of the Moving Image, Columbia University, and NYU, the official opening night takes place on Wednesday, April 11 at the AMC Loews 34th Street Theater. The opening-night screening marks the New York premiere of Ernesto Daranas’s political satire Sergio y Serguéi (Sergio and Sergei).

Based on a true story, this clever comedy recounts the unlikely friendship that develops between a Russian cosmonaut trapped in space during the fall of the Soviet Union and the Cuban philosophy professor who tries to save him. The film features US actor Ron Perlman and two of Cuba’s hottest actors, Tomás Cao and Hector Noas, as Sergio and Sergei. Cao and Noas will be present for a Q&A following the screening.

Los Buenos Demonios (The Good Demons), the latest feature by Gerardo Chijona, is also in competition. A dark comedy about a modern-day Robin Hood who happens to be a serial killer, Los Buenos Demonios has a star-studded cast, including Carlos Enrique Almirante, Isabel Santos, Enrique Molina, and Vladimir Cruz. Director Chijona will be present for a Q&A.

Two Cuban-themed documentaries are also competing. Severo Secreto, by Cruz Gustavo Pérez & Oneyda González, traces the life of Cuban writer Severo Sarduy. Born in Camagüey of Spanish, African, and Chinese heritage, he moved to Havana to study medicine but pursued his talents for poetry and painting. In 1960 Sarduy was sent by the government to Paris to study art. He decided not to return to the island, fearful of the persecution of homosexuals and the censorship imposed on writers in Cuba at that time.

Severo Sarduy, the subject of the documentary Severo Secreto
Courtesy Martí Noticias

A Brazilian documentary, O Gato de Havana (The Cat from Havana), by Dacio Malta, chronicles the history of the famous Havana jazz club, El Gato Tuerto (The One-Eyed Cat).

Omara Portuondo in O Gato de Havana
Courtesy Miami Film Festival

The festival wraps up on Tuesday, April 17, at the Directors Guild Theater on 57th Street, with the presentation of the Havana Star prizes for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor/Actress, and Best Documentary. The ceremony will be followed by the documentary Cuban Food Stories by Asori Soto.

A culinary road trip across the island, the film serves up a socio-historical understanding of food as a vehicle of memory, identity, and change. “Made with an archivist’s heart and a gourmand’s soul,” Variety said in its review, calling Cuban Food Stories a “mouth-watering” film, “eye-opening in every way.” Soto will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

In addition to the films in competition, there is a full program of Cuba-focused special events.

The Art of Screenwriting: The Stories of Senel Paz. Acclaimed screenwriter Senel Paz (Fresa y Chocolate) conducts a master class on writing for film. Paz founded the screenwriting department at Cuba’s distinguished film school, EICTV, as well as the Muestra de Cine Joven, a film festival that celebrates emerging cinematic talents.

Restoring Titón: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Classics Remastered. Gutiérrez Alea (1928–1996) is arguably Cuba’s best-known and internationally celebrated filmmaker. On this 90th anniversary of his birth, HFFNY presents three of his films digitally restored and remastered by the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Fresa y chocolate (1993), Los sobrevivientes (1979), and Una pelea cubana contra los demonios(1971). Film historian and archivist Luciano Castillo will be on hand to talk about the films’ restoration.

A frame from Una pelea contra los demonios, 1971, by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Courtesy YouTube

Community Media in Cuba’s Mountains: Television Serrana Turns 25. Television Serrana is a community media organization based in the Cuban countryside. The festival presents two series of shorts curated by Dr. Ann Marie Stock, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Carlos Rodríguez.

Remembering Fernando Birri. Argentina-born Fernando Birri (1925–2017) directed 17 films and founded three films schools, including the International Film and TV School of San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba. He subsequently cemented the principles of what would come to be known as “New Latin American Cinema.”

The Actor’s Context: A Conversation with 3 Great Latin American Actors. Mirtha Ibarra (Fresa y chocolateGuantanamera), Jorge Perugorría (Fresa y chocolateLista de espera) and Sebastian Ospina (Soplo de vidaTiempo de morir) discuss the complexities of acting: working with weak scripts and amateur acting partners, connecting with written characters, inhabiting the liminal space between fiction and documentary in Latin American cinema, and more.

From left, Vladimir Cruz, Jorge Perugorría, and Mirta Ibarra in Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), 1993
Courtesy jorgeperugorria.com

The Havana Film Festival New York is a project of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba (AFLFC). 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 Closing Night event will take place at the Directors Guild Theater, 110 West 57th Street. Special events and additional screenings take place at institutions around the city, including the Bronx Museum of the Arts; Museum of the Moving Image, Queens; King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, NYU; Columbia University International Affairs Building; CUNY Graduate Center; and the School of Visual Arts Auditorium.

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