Cuban screenwriter and director Juan Carlos Tabío died in Havana Monday morning (Jan. 18). He was 77 years old. The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry called his work “part of the transcendent history of Cuban cinema.”
Born in Havana in 1943, Tabío joined the Cuban Institute in 1961 as a production assistant before moving up to the role of assistant director of documentary shorts. Tabío’s first feature film was his 1983 comedy House for Swap (Se permuta) about a mother who devises a plan to keep her daughter’s boyfriend away from her by switching homes.
A decade later, he was brought on board to co-direct Strawberry and Chocolate (Fresa y chocolate) with Tomás Gutiérrez Alea when Alea’s health began to fail. Strawberry and Chocolate would be the first and only film from Cuba ever to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category (now Best International Film). The dramedy follows a friendship that grows between a young, straight communist and an older, gay artist who meet in the late 1970s during the Fidel Castro regime.
Luis Morlote Rivas, president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, called Tabío a “prominent and beloved film director.”
Some of Tabío’s other well-regarded works include Guantanamera, also co-directed by Alea, which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 1995 Venice Film Festival, and The Waiting List (Lista de espera), nominated for Un Certain Regard Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.
His last project was the 2012 anthology film 7 Days in Havana. Tabío’s contribution was the segment “Dulce amargo.” The other six directors who participated included Gaspar Noé and Benicio Del Toro. Like The Waiting List, the film was nominated for Un Certain Regard Award–this time at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.