With over 35 films from Cuba, Latin America, and Latino filmmakers in the U.S, the 20th edition of the Havana Film Festival New York (HFFNY) is a reminder of why it’s the longest running Latino fest in the city. In addition to showcasing some of the most exciting contemporary filmmakers from the region, the 2019 program is giving audiences a chance to catch the work of some of Cuba’s most well-known directors. Fans of Fernando Pérez will be able to check out his latest film (co-directed with Laura Cazador), Insumisas, as well as two of his earlier films, including 1987’s Clandestinos. As part of its In Memoriam tribute, HFFNY is screening the 1996 documentary Yo soy, del son a la salsa by Rigoberto López, who passed away earlier this year. And for those itching to look further back to Cuba’s classic cinema, there’s also a screening of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s groundbreaking 1978 film Memories of Underdevelopment.
As always, the week-long fest will not only be showing films but offering master classes and panel discussions with notable local and international directors, actors, and producers. And given its commitment to making its program as accessible as possible, its partnerships with local cultural institutions such as the Museum of the Moving Image, School of Visual Arts, and New York Institute of Technology among others, means that there are plenty of free events to check out. If you’re looking to see what’s worth checking out, we’ve combed through this year’s offerings and narrowed down our top picks. Check them out below.
Havana Film Festival New York runs April 9 – 16, 2019, with special events beginning on April 5.
As his name suggests, fourteen year-old Segundo Paucar (Junior Behar) is his father Noé’s (Amiel Cayo) most devoted apprentice. Together, they craft intricate storyboxes—consisting of a cabinet, hand-painted figurines, and a lot of heart—for Peruvian families. Upon discovering his father with another man, Segundo struggles to accept his father’s delicate touch and its beautiful byproducts. With this award-winning debut feature, Alvaro Delgado Aparicio emphasizes his devotion to the touching and fraught power structure that afflicts fathers and sons. In Retablo, patience in art and relationships might be tragically condemned by society, yet they are fiercely rewarded by family.
Lucrecia (Mercedes Morán) and Pedro (Gustavo Garzón), psychoanalysts both, have been together many years. With their two children nearing adulthood, the couple has decided to re-evaluate their marriage and declare themselves separated. Sort of. The family takes a road trip to Florianópolis, the Brazilian island city where Lucrecia and Pedro once enjoyed an idyllic getaway. They rent a cottage from another middle-aged husband and wife who are also, as it happens, on the verge of a split. Between bouts of swimming, eating, drinking, and karaoke, opportunities arise for adults and adolescents alike to find sex or romance or both. As Lucrecia’s birthday approaches, however, these carefree days prompt deeper questions about the roles we play, the love we share, and the possibilities life still offers.
Nuria and Fabio arrive at dawn with their mother Amparo at an unknown island on the border between Brazil, Colombia and Peru. They are fleeing armed conflicts in Colombia and learn that their father, who had allegedly been killed in a landslide caused by a mining company, is hiding in the stilt house where they come to live. Fearful of betraying this family secret, Nuria goes silent, whereas Fabio seems to have no problem with the matter. In the midst of this process, the family tries to receive compensation for the father’s death and to obtain a visa to emigrate to Brazil. By covering this story, they uncover others about the family’s past; people who have been involved in the armed conflicts of Colombia, which already lasts for over half a century. Gradually, they discover that the island where they are is populated by ghosts, who unite to interfere in the living’s destiny.
Spanish director Icíar Bollaín (Even the Rain) and her partner Paul Laverty (Ken Loach’s longtime collaborator) try something completely different with this adaptation of acclaimed Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta’s autobiography. Yuli, the nickname given to Acosta by his father Pedro, runs wild in the streets of Havana where he participates in dance-offs with other kids. Recognizing Yuli’s natural talent, Pedro forces him to attend Cuba’s National Dance School. Yuli is reluctant at first, but is eventually seduced by this world. Seventeen years later, he would become the first black artist to dance the role of Romeo in the Royal Ballet in London. Combining a straightforward narrative with scenes where Acosta is seen working with his company on choreographies based on his life, Yuli is a moving fusion of dance, words and images.
Lejos del sentido
Between 2010 and 2013, two of the most important psychiatric hospitals in Mexico closed. Liliana was admitted to both because of Borderline Personality Disorder. Upon discovering that something wasn’t right with her mental health, Liliana and her family seek a reason for her emotional instability and her frequent hospitalizations due to suicide attempts. Facing a possible relapse and without the option of psychiatric institutionalization, they resort to home treatment.
El viaje extraordinario de Celeste García
A compassionate and candid woman with an endless curiosity for life, Celeste (Maria Isabel Diaz) is a retired and widowed teacher living a tranquil, unadventurous existence in Havana. Her part-time job at the planetarium keeps her busy, but she goes home to a careless adult son who ignores her, and her selfish sister visits only when she is looking for something. One day, the government announces the surprising news that aliens have been living on Earth and that these unusual guests are now returning the favour by inviting humans to their world. Celeste had always thought that her “Russian” neighbour Pauline was eccentric — she now realizes her friend was truly from another planet. While people rush to put their names forward to be selected in an extraterrestrial lottery, Celeste discovers that Pauline has left her a personal invitation. To everyone’s surprise, she agrees to accept.
Politicians aren’t often full-time hotel housekeepers, grandmothers, union members and immigrants working service jobs. But Carmen Castillo changes that when she wins a seat on the City Council in Providence, Rhode Island. Castillo is a Dominican City Councilwoman, who maintains her job cleaning hotel rooms, as she takes on her new role in politics. She faces skeptics who say she doesn’t have the education to govern, the power of corporate interests who take a stand against her fight for a $15/hourly wage in the city and a tough reelection against two contenders — all of this while balancing the challenges of managing a full-time job cleaning hotel rooms and a personal relationship. It’s a journey behind the scenes of politics after the victory.
1810. Enrique Faber, a Swiss surgeon, lands in Cuba in search for his son. After a few weeks of investigation, he is told that his son was burnt alive in the attack on a plantation led by a slave revolt. Enrique Faber does not believe this. He settles in Baracoa and carries on with his research. His success as a doctor and his marriage to Juana, a young strange and attractive pariah from the area soon create jealousies. Malicious rumors immediately spread about his high-pitched voice and his fragile appearance. One night, he comes across four men sent by a slave trader. They undress him and discover that Enrique is a woman. Enrique is thrown into jail. Soon begins the most scandalous trial of Cuban colonial history.
El camino de Santiago
Tristán Bauer’s documentary looks for the motives behind the death of twenty-eight year old Argentine social activist Santiago Maldonado in late summer 2017. His death followed a demonstration in support of a jailed member of the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche group. In a country of 30,000 disappeared, this new disappearance generated indignation from family members, human rights organizations and society at large. In October 17, 78 days after his disappearance, when the body of Santiago appeared on the banks of the Chubut River, is when this documentary begins, tracing the story of what happened to Maldonado and examining why this modern-day disappearance so gripped the nation. The film is narrated by actor Darío Grandinetti (Talk to Her, Wild Tales) and features music by León Gieco.