Peru and Cuba Win Big at the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Tiger Awards

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The 2015 edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (that’s like the Rotterdam International Film Festival, but backwards) has drawn to a close with it’s annual award ceremony honoring the best in global cinema for the 43rd year running. And wouldn’t you know that standing front and center holding a metal tiger’s head, with his trademark round glasses and charming, reserved smile was Cuban wunderkind director Carlos Machado Quintela. Standing alongside him with yet another tiger’s head was Peruvian filmmaker Juan Daniel F. Molero.

No, this was not some artistic intervention about tiger poaching, but rather the festival’s coveted Tiger Award for first and second time filmmakers. In Quintela’s case, it’s his second film, La obra del siglo that earned him the distinction. For Molero, it was his first narrative feature, Videofilia (y otros síndromes virales). In all, it was a good day for Latin American cinema.

Winners HIVOS Tiger Award, from left: Jakrawal Nilthamrong, Carlos M. Quintela, and Juan Daniel F. Molero. Photo by Felix Kalkman
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Quintela’s previous work, La Piscina, signified a breakout moment for Cuban independent cinema when it premiered at the 2013 edition of the Berlinale. The film’s sparse plot about four disabled youths who spend the day poolside with their apathetic trainer, is a film about boredom and dead time that takes on a deeper meaning as an exploration of apathy and resignation amongst a Cuban people who no longer expect the change their country so desperately needs. After its premiere, the feature picked up prizes at the Miami and Marrakech film festivals before given way to Quintela’s latest independent film phenomenon.

La obra del siglo was filmed in Cuba’s Ciudad Nuclear (Nuclear City) — a nearly abandoned nuclear reactor compound built with Soviet cooperation and once envisioned as the future of Cuban society. Now, years on, the residents of Ciudad Nuclear live in the shadow of the massive, hulking nuclear project that lies forgotten and decaying. The film follows the lives of three generations of men living in the same apartment and once again explores the peculiarities of the Cuban condition — in this case the distance between the goals Cuba once dreamed of achieving, and its dreary, decadent reality.

In a 180 degree thematic flip, Juan Daniel F. Molero’s Videofilia takes on the omnipresence of the internet (something Cuba’s still waiting for) in the daily lives of middle-class Peruvian youths. Described as a “non-love story,” Videofilia paints a glitchy, psychedelic portrait of life in contemporary Peru with an exorcism involving a guinea pig thrown in for good measure. Previously, Molero’s documentary Reminiscences had premiered at the 2010 edition of Rotterdam, but picked up no prizes. It seems this year, he came to win.

Way to go, Latin America.