When Cuban filmmaker Alejandro Brugués and the independent company Producciones de la Quinta Avenida were awarded the Goya Award in 2013 for Best Foreign Film in the Spanish Language for Juan of the Dead (Juan de los muertos), the whole world was introduced to something Cubans have known for a few years: the strength of a new cinema created outside the structures of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC).
Carlos Machado Quintela, The Project of the Century
That same year, Carlos Machado Quintela won the Opera Prima award from Miami International Film Festival for his feature The Swimming Pool (La piscina), and went on to receive the special jury award from the hands of Martin Scorsese at the Marrakech International Film Festival. Now, Machado returns with his follow-up film, The Project of the Century (La obra del siglo), having its North American debut in Miami a few weeks after winning a major prize at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. After these memorable triumphs in Madrid, Miami, Marrakech and Rotterdam, the independent Cuban filmmakers are the source of the best cinema coming from the island these days.
The explosion of creativity and fresh new voices are exemplified in many places in this Festival season. Ernesto Daranas opened the Festival’s mid-season festival, MIFFecito, last October with his extraordinary Behavior (Conducta). During the post-screening question & answer session, an audience member asked how the film was financed; Daranas replied: “El espiritu santo” (“The Holy Spirit”)—tongue ruefully in cheek.
Venice; “The Windows”
Kiki Álvarez’s Venice (Venecia), an eye-opening portrait of contemporary Havana, produced by Ivonne Cotorruelo, screening in the Cinema 360° presented by ViendoMovies program at this year’s Festival, is also a startling example of work being done with character and guerilla style shooting methods. Venice will be preceded by the short film “The Windows” (“Las ventanas”), directed by a strong and rising new female voice, Maryulis Alfonso Yero. The remarkable energy of short filmmaker Edouard Salier’s futuristic “Habana” is a voice decidedly unlike any other in Cuba today.
Yotuel Romero, Playing Lecuona, director Pavel Giroud
Pavel Giroud has just completed shooting The Companion (El acompañante) in Cuba, starring rap singer-turning-actor Yotuel Romero. For this fifth film, a multi-national co-production, Giroud’s Cuban producing partner is none other than Producciones de la Quinta Avenida. For his fourth, the documentary feature Playing Lecuona in the Festival’s CINEDWNTWN GALA presented by Miami DDA program this year, he worked with Spain’s Canal Sur.
Claudia Calviño, Hotel Nueva Isla; Jessica Rodríguez, Dark Glasses
Also coming soon: Jessica Rodríguez’s Dark Glasses (Espejuelos oscuros) . She’ll be presenting selections from the work-in-progress and discussing the evolution of the film with the Miami audience, and so will Marcel Beltrán, with his upcoming documentary, The Missing of Kafka (El desaparecido de Kafka)—MARCEL BELTRÁN – NEW WORK—plus many of his earlier shorter works. Claudia Calviño, co-founder of Producciones de la Quinta Avenida, will demonstrate the powerful work her company is producing—from shorts through to documentaries on unconventional subjects, and Hotel Nueva Isla.
Marcel Beltrán, The Cloud
Meanwhile, back in Cuba, the work continues by other members of this “new school” of Cuban filmmaking: Arturo Infante, Ariagna Fajardo, Carlos Lechuga, Inti Herrera, Lester Hamlet…and many more.
Cuban flag; Fernando Pérez
In the most telling sign of change, one of the most prolific and celebrated directors from the ICAIC period, Fernando Pérez, retired from the institution and went forward with making a film independently. That film, La pared de las palabras, will stand as a major symbol of independent work in Cuba.
As this year’s CINEDWNTWN GALA Career Achievement Tribute ceremony—on Sunday, March 8th at Olympia Theater at Gusman Center—the Festival collectively salutes the efforts and extraordinary achievements of all these resilient filmmakers, each an “Artist of the New Independent Cuban Film Boom.” – Jaie Laplante & Orlando Rojas