Distancia (Distance), by Sergio Ramírez

The 13th Havana Film Festival New York wrapped up on Friday evening with the presentation of the Havana Star Prizes. In the Fiction category, top honors went to Distancia (Distance, Guatemala), which won for Best Film, and its director, Sergio Ramírez, for Best Director. A first feature by Ramírez, Distancia follows the journey of Tomás to a reunion with his only daughter who was kidnapped twenty years ago during the Guatemalan civil war, when she was just three years old. To cope with the pain of loss, Tomás has kept a diary over the years, hoping it will someday find its way to his daughter.

The award for Best Screenplay went to Trabalhar Cansa (Hard Labor, Brazil), directed and written by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. This first feature tells the story of a young housewife who struggles to open her own business and support her family after her husband loses his job and becomes increasingly alienated.

Honors for Best Documentary went to Con mi corazón en el Yambo (With My Heart in the Yambo, Ecuador), directed by Maria Fernanda Restrepo Arismendi. In 1988, when the director was ten years old, her two brothers failed to pick her up after a children’s party. A year later, the family learned that the brothers had been picked up by the Ecuadorean police, tortured, and assassinated. Their bodies were disposed of in Lake Yambo and never found. This personal tragedy is mingled with the memories of an entire nation marked by this history.

Jurors for the Fiction category were Ángel Luis Lara (Spain-USA), Esmeralda Santiago (Puerto Rico-USA), and Jairo Carrillo (Colombia). Documentary jurors were Juan Alejandro Ramírez (Peru), Mario A. Murillo (USA), and Ruth Goldberg (USA).

A number of Cuban filmmakers were present this year to introduce and discuss their films during the festival, including acclaimed cinematographer Raúl Pérez Ureta—the subject of a festival tribute, composer/director Edesio Alejandro (Los 100 Sones Cubanos), Antonio Brugués (Juan de los Muertos), Manuel Herrera (Bailando Cha Cha Cha), Tané Martinez (Caminando Aragón), and Ian Padrón (Habanastation).

Luminaries on hand for the closing night events included Cuban actress Eslinda Nuñez, who was the subject of a festival tribute this year; NYC Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman; Pedro Nuñez, ambassador to the Cuban mission to the United Nations; Rosa María Rivera, Cuban film industry representative; Cuban actress Blanca Rosa Blanco, who appeared in both the opening and closing films of the festival: Habanastation and Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead). Grammy-nominated Cuban musical group SINTESIS provided a rhythmic accompaniment for the closing night party.

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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).