The Havana Film Festival New York Is an Oasis of Cinema That Transports You to Latin America

Lead Photo: 'Sergio & Serguéi' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'Sergio & Serguéi' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
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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.


La novia del desierto

Cecilia Atán, Valeria Pivato

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.

Chile, Argentina


O gato de Havana

Dacio Malta

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.

Livia Arbex, Dacio Malta
Gretel Medina, Julia Maribal


Matar a Jesús

Laura Mora Ortega

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 a motorcycle who’d shot her father – who’s a teacher and lawyer. Her intent is to enter 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.

Synopsis By: Manuel Betancourt
Laura Mora Ortega, Alonso Torres
Diego F. Ramírez, Maja Zimmermann, Juan Pablo García, Alex Zito, Ignacio Rey


Sergio & Serguéi

Ernesto Daranas Serrano

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.

Cuba, Spain
Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Marta Daranas Serrano
Joel Ortega, Jaume Roures, Ramón Samada



Freddie Marrero

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.

Puerto Rico, Venezuela
Ray Figueroa, Freddie Marrero, Tito Román Rivera


Los perros

Marcela Said

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.

Marcela Said
Sophie Erbs, Tom Dercourt, Augusto Matte



Marcelo Gomes

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.

Marcelo Gomes



Judith R. Escalona

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.

United States
Judith R. Escalona
Izzy Ruiz, Clarisel Gonzalez


Severo secreto

Cruz Gustavo Pérez, Oneyda González

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.

Cruz Gustavo Pérez, Oneyda González
Cruz Gustavo Pérez


Los buenos demonios

Gerardo Chijona

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.

Daniel Díaz Torres, Alejandro Hernández
Miguel Morales, Daniel Díaz Ravelo


Cuban Food Stories

Asori Soto

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.

Cuba, United States
Asori Soto
Asori Soto


Los Buscadores

Tana Schémbori, Juan Carlos Maneglia

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.

Juan Carlos Maneglia
Richard Careaga