The Havana Film Festival in New York always delivers. Going into its 19th year, it remains an essential event for lovers of Cuban cinema. In addition to showing a slew of amazing movies both from the island and Latin America at large, 2018’s HFFNY is brimming with events that celebrate the legacy and the future of the Cuban film industry. Prolific Cuban screenwriter Senel Paz is bringing the art of screenwriting to New York City, presenting a selection of his most seminal works at the 19th HFFNY while the fest will honor the 90th birthday of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (aka Titón) with three of his acclaimed films which have been digitally restored and re-mastered 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).

As if that wasn’t enough HFFNY is also hosting The Actor’s Context, a conversation with three renowned Latin American actors: Mirtha Ibarra (Fresa y chocolate; Guantanamera), Jorge Perugorria (Fresa y chocolate; Lista de espera) and Sebastian Ospina (Soplo de vida; Tiempo de morir) promise to get personal in a discussion full of hands-on tips to deal with the complexities of acting, from working with weak scripts or amateur acting partners, to connecting with written characters, to inhabiting the liminal space between fiction and documentary in Latin American cinema.

But at the heart of this 10-day event are the films, so we’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of our top picks of flicks playing this year’s fest. It includes everything from documentaries on Cuban literary giants and Puerto Rican revolutionaries to Chilean dramas grappling with Pinochet’s legacy and Brazilian historical epics. Check them out below.

Havana Film Festival in New York runs April 6-17, 2018.

1

La novia del desierto

Country Chile, Argentina
Production Year 2017
Synopsis

Paulina García (Gloria, Little Men) delivers another warm and sympathetic performance in Cecilia Atán’s and Valeria Pivato’s feature debut. García plays Teresa, a woman who has worked all her life as a live-in maid for a Buenos Aires family who is left adrift after the family sells their house. On her way to a new job in a distant town, Teresa loses her bags with all her belongings. She searches for them with the help of traveling salesman El Gringo and ends up finding love and her own potential.


Film Details
The Desert Bride
Director Cecilia Atán Valeria Pivato
Country Chile Argentina
Genre Drama
Production Year 2017
Running Time 78 minutes
2

O gato de Havana

Director Dacio Malta
Country Brazil
Production Year 2016
TheCat From Havana
Courtesy of NYLFF
Synopsis

Dacio Malta chronicles the long, fascinating story of Havana’s most famous jazz club, Gato Tuerto, in all its bohemian glory and creative bliss in this captivating, star-studded documentary. To this day, Havana remains that rare city where music-lovers can still wander into a small club and, for a nominal fee, witness some of the world’s most vibrant sounds as they are generated by some of its greatest talents. Perhaps the most illustrious of all Havana’s clubs is Gato Tuerto, now in its sixth decade of existence. Its stage is small but has hosted giants, among them Omara Portuondo, Pablo Milanés and Chucho Valdés, who have played for the likes of Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar.


Film Details
The Cat From Havana
Director Dacio Malta
Country Brazil
Genre Documentary
Writer Livia Arbex Dacio Malta
Producer Gretel Medina Julia Maribal
Production Year 2016
Running Time 89 minutes
3

Matar a Jesús

Country Colombia
Production Year 2017
Matar a Jesus 01
'Matar a Jesus' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Matar a Jesus 02
'Matar a Jesus' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Matar a Jesus 03
Courtesy of TIFF
Synopsis

Set in Medellin, this pulse-pounding thriller follows a young girl’s attempts to find the sicarios behind her father’s murder. When the local police proves unhelpful she takes matters into her own hands once she spots the guy on the motorcycle who’d shot her teacher/lawyer father. Intent on entering his world and getting a hold of a gun to enact the revenge she so lusts for. Drawing from director’s Laura Mora Ortega’s own life (like her protagonist, Mora Ortega’s father was killed and she eventually got to face the guy responsible), Matar a Jesus breathes new life into the kind of violence-ridden Medellin stories arthouse audiences are used to, pausing on the moral ambiguity of her characters’ actions instead.

Manuel Betancourt

Film Details
Killing Jesus
Director Laura Mora Ortega
Country Colombia
Genre Drama
Writer Laura Mora Ortega Alonso Torres
Producer Diego F. Ramírez Maja Zimmermann Juan Pablo García Alex Zito Ignacio Rey
Production Year 2017
Running Time 95 minutes
4

Sergio & Serguéi

Country Cuba, Spain
Production Year 2017
sergio_sergei_01
'Sergio & Serguéi' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Synopsis

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992 had profound repercussions for the state of Cuba — the USSR had been the small island nation’s main economic supporter. It had more personal ramifications for Soviet cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who was forced to stay in orbit an extra four months while his country went through a bewildering transformation. Intertwining fictionalized personal experiences with historical facts, Cuban filmmaker Ernesto Daranas Serrano’s comedic third feature is a thoughtful, poignant reflection on big events and their effects on ordinary lives. Avid amateur radio operator Sergio (Tomás Cao) is barely able to provide for his mother and young daughter on his meager university professor’s salary. One evening, as he is testing a new radio, he stumbles upon a channel that communicates directly with the Mir space station. Aboard the station, lonely astronaut Sergei (Serguéi in Spanish, played by Héctor Noas) orbits the earth all alone because the funding to bring him back home has run out. These two men, marginalized in their respective ways and mocked by history, develop a friendship that will have profound consequences.


Film Details
Sergio & Sergei
Director Ernesto Daranas Serrano
Country Cuba Spain
Genre Comedy
Writer Ernesto Daranas Serrano Marta Daranas Serrano
Producer Joel Ortega Ramón Samada Jaume Roures
Production Year 2017
Running Time 93 minutes
5

Filiberto

Production Year 2017
Filiberto HFFNY
Courtesy of HFFNY
Synopsis

The deeds of a professional musician who abandons his trumpet and family to live the clandestine life of an armed revolutionary for Puerto Rican independence. Filiberto follows the tragic tale of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.


Film Details

Director Freddie Marrero
Country Puerto Rico Venezuela
Genre Documentary
Writer Ray Figueroa Freddie Marrero Tito Román Rivera
Production Year 2017
Running Time 75 minutes
6

Los perros

Director Marcela Said
Country Chile
Production Year 2017
Los Perros Cannes 01
'Los perros' Courtesy of Critics Week, Cannes 2017
Synopsis

Mariana (Antonia Zegers) is part of that Chilean upper class that takes privilege for granted. Despised by both her father and her husband, she feels a strange attraction towards her riding teacher, Juan (Alfredo Castro), a former colonel suspected of human rights abuses during the dictatorship. But their affair cracks through the invisible walls that protect her family from the past.

 


Film Details

Director Marcela Said
Country Chile
Genre Drama
Writer Marcela Said
Producer Sophie Erbs Tom Dercourt Augusto Matte
Production Year 2017
Running Time 94 minutes
7

Joaquim

Director Marcelo Gomes
Country Brazil
Production Year 2017
Joaquim HFFNY
Courtesy of HFFNY
Synopsis

Brazil, 18th Century. Portugal’s colony endures a decline in gold production. A Portuguese minority rules over a corrupt and autocratic society formed mostly by African slaves, native Indians and mestizos. Joaquim is an efficient military famous for capturing gold smugglers. He longs to be compensated with a lieutenant promotion to buy the freedom of Preta, a slave he is in love with. But the promotion never comes through. Joaquim despairs. A risky mission to the feared Badlands in search of new gold mines appears to be the only way to achieve a promotion and buy his lover’s freedom.


Film Details

Director Marcelo Gomes
Country Brazil
Genre Drama
Writer Marcelo Gomes
Production Year 2017
Running Time 97 minutes
8

BX3M

Production Year 2016
BX3M HFFNY
Courtesy of HFFNY
Synopsis

For Maria and Mona, their impending graduation from James Monroe High School means fulfilling a dream. For Michael, it means dashing all hope of a better future. You either make the grade or you don’t— in academics or love— and that makes all the difference in this portrait of Latino youth in the Bronx.


Film Details

Director Judith R. Escalona
Country United States
Genre Drama
Writer Judith R. Escalona
Producer Izzy Ruiz Clarisel Gonzalez
Production Year 2016
Running Time 103 minutes
9

Severo secreto

Country Cuba
Production Year 2016
severo secreto
Courtesy of HFFNY
Synopsis

Following the life of Cuban writer Severo Sarduy (author of De dónde son los cantantes and Cobra and Maitreya), this is the true story of a man ahead of his time, deceived by his circumstances. Directed by poet, narrator and Cuban essayist Oneyda González and poet, documentary filmmaker and photographer Cruz Gustavo Pérez, Severo secreto plays like an academic reappraisal of a titan of Cuban literature.


Film Details

Director Cruz Gustavo Pérez Oneyda González
Country Cuba
Genre Documentary
Writer Cruz Gustavo Pérez Oneyda González
Producer Cruz Gustavo Pérez
Production Year 2016
Running Time 66 minutes
10

Los buenos demonios

Country Cuba
Production Year 2017
Synopsis

Tito is 23 years old. He has a mother who loves him and a car that allows him to earn his life honestly. For his neighbors he is a reliable and educated kid. Nobody knows that behind that façade someone with a pragmatic view of life is hidden. This implies making terrible acts. Acts for which, perhaps, he will have to pay one day. But Tito is not concerned by the future. Only present exists. The Cuban reality today, just as it is. Los buenos demonios is a hilarious dark comedy about a modern-day Robin Hood (if Robin Hood were a serial killer) starring some of Cuba’s biggest names including Carlos Enrique Almirante, Isabel Santos, Enrique Molina and Vladimir Cruz.


Film Details
The Good Demons
Director Gerardo Chijona
Country Cuba
Genre Comedy
Writer Daniel Díaz Torres Alejandro Hernández
Producer Miguel Morales Daniel Díaz Ravelo
Production Year 2017
Running Time 88 minutes
11

Cuban Food Stories

Director Asori Soto
Production Year 2018
Cuban Food Stories 013_CFS_BeachMeal
Beach dinner in Baracoa, Cuba. Photo by: Asori Soto
Cuban Food Stories
Cuban food market in Old Havana, Cuba. Photo by: Asori Soto
Synopsis

Diverse cuisine is rarely counted among the cultural phenomena for which Cuba is celebrated; popular notions of Cuba as a placed defined by deprivation doesn’t help. A richly comprehensive remedy for this misperception, Cuban Food Stories visits every province in the country to sample a culinary legacy grounded in so much more than rice and beans.


Film Details

Director Asori Soto
Country Cuba United States
Writer Asori Soto
Producer Asori Soto
Production Year 2018
Running Time 81 minutes
12

Los Buscadores

Country Paraguay
Production Year 2017
cecilia-torres-y-tomas-arredondo-en-los-buscadores-_970_497_1540619
'Los buscadores' still courtesy of IFF Panama
Synopsis

Weaving historical elements about the Paraguayan War into a thrilling storyline, the new film by the directors of Paraguayan sensation, 7 Boxes, follows Manu, a paperboy from an impoverished neighborhood, who thanks to his treasure hunter grandfather discovers a map that might lead him to a valuable find. The pressure of helping his family will push Manu to carry out a plan to get to the site, which is now an embassy. Using both Guarani and Spanish, this high-octane adventure is a more visually polished than Schémboru and Maneglia’s gritty previous effort, but just as engaging.


Film Details

Director Tana Schémbori Juan Carlos Maneglia
Country Paraguay
Genre Adventure
Writer Juan Carlos Maneglia
Producer Richard Careaga
Production Year 2017
Running Time 102 minutes