Havana Film Festival New York 2012

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Whenever Cuba makes the news it’s almost always about Fidel Castro, the crumbling economy, or the latest musician or sports player who defected. For those of us who live on this side of the trade embargo, it’s rare to hear stories from Cuba that fall outside of the socialism vs. communism trope. The Havana Film Festival New York offers a chance to see those not-often-heard stories on a big screen. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Cuban zombie movie? Now’s your chance. The 13th annual festival will screen more than 40 films from across Latin America. Here’s a list of highlights. ¡Tírate!

And for you cheapos we are giving away three pairs of tickets to any festival screening at the Quad Cinema.

JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS (Juan of the Dead)
Director: Alejandro Brugués
Country: Cuba, Spain (2011)
Running Time: 100 min

The film that I am the most excited about is the highly anticipated Juan de los Muertos. After its world premiere at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, the twitterverse and blogosphere went nutso over, “Cuba’s first zombie movie”– eventually landing it a review in the New York Times. Not too bad for an idea that started off as a joke. Walking around Havana with his producer/friend the director, Alejandro Brugués, saw a haggard-looking person walk by, he quipped, “Let’s shoot a zombie movie here. We won’t even need makeup.” Even the film’s title was a joke. But, he immediately decided to start working on a script. The resulting film is a dark comedy/horror spoof shot in Havana. As the city becomes flooded with zombies, the Cuban government explains to its citizens that the the living dead are just dissidents getting paid by the U.S. to create disturbances. Juan steps in and starts a zombie-killing service.

Havana Star Prize Award Ceremony, Closing Night Film & Latin Night Party

Juan de los Muertos will screen on April 20th at the Directors Guild Theatre as part of the Closing Night Award Ceremony. An after-party at SOBs features a performance by the Afro-Cuban rock band Síntesis.

Director: Santiago Mitre
Country: Argentina
Running Time: 110min

A few months ago I attended a press screening for El Estudiante. The director, Santiago Mitre, was unable to make it to New York, but did a Q&A from his home in Argentina via Skype, which was projected onto the huge movie screen in front of us. Like a true Argentinian, he sipped on mate and casually smoked cigarettes in between answering questions. Mitre explained that local cinema had ignored one of Argentina’s largest institutions, la Universidad de Buenos Aires, and he was inspired to tell a story about politics using the school as a backdrop. In the film Roque, a first-year student, wastes no time. Shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires, he is already romancing fellow students he meets in class and at parties. But he quickly falls for a radicalized teacher and organizer and finds himself entangled with Buenos Aires campus activists.

TRABALHAR CANSA (Trabalhar Cansa)
Director: Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra
Country: Brazil (2011)
Running Time: 99min

“Young housewife Helena is on the verge of fulfilling a dream as she prepares to open her own business: a neighborhood grocery store. But when her husband Otavio is suddenly fired from his job as an insurance executive, Helena is left to support the family alone. As Otavio fails to find work and becomes increasingly alienated, business struggles to take off and the pressure on Helena mounts. To make things worse, she discovers that one of the building’s brick walls seems to be crumbling. Helena begins to wonder if that may be the cause of all her problems.” Spoiler alert: you will be scared.

ALGUIEN HA VISTO A LUPITA? (Have You Seen Lupita?)
Director: Gonzalo Justiniano
Country: Mexico, Chile, Germany (2011)
Running Time: 86min

“This comedy tells the story of Lupita (Dulce María), who flees from her family because they want to put her in a psychiatric hospital. During her journey from Mexico to the US, she meets Chepita (Carmen Salinas), who will share adventures and protect her. With her innocence, sensuality and romanticism, Lupita helps us see that the world can be experienced in a different way.” Who knew you could make a comedy about running away from home?

JUNTOS PARA SIEMPRE (Together Forever)
Director: Pablo Solarz
Country: Argentina (2010)
Running Time: 101min

“The well-known scriptwriter Gross avoids his past by escaping into his work. His wife Lucía is tired of his stories and begins to have an affair. But not even the confession of her infidelity moves Gross, who is enraptured with the script he is writing. After seeing that her husband will not change, Lucía decides to abandon him. Yet this does not deter Gross: that same day, he replaces Lucía with Laura. This is how Laura begins to transform into a copy of Gross’ true love.”

The 13th annual Havana Film Festival New York (HFFNY) runs April 12-20 with most screenings at the Quad Cinema (34 West 13th St, between 5th & 6th Ave). Additional venues include the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Instituto Cervantes, and the Directors Guild Theatre.

Check out the website for FREE screenings, events and panels

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