Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December at the movies

December is the month of the Havana’s International Festival of New Cinema, and the city feels excited. Early afternoon a crowd of people is lining up in the main theatres hosted by the Festival, and the famous intersection of 23 and L Street feels alive, probably, for first time in the year. I would say Saint Claus visits our city and fills with joy a journey of 12 days.December at the movies

When I was in Cuba, those days were also a nightmare because it is hard to figure out how to stay in place and in time where some interesting movie is playing. You just try to watch the biggest amount of movies in anticipation that probably many of them could not be played again. The Festival is an event were you could find those rarities that the censorship couldn’t avoid the public exhibition of some controversial movies that the regime immediately cut their life in normal times.

I remember watching “Alicia in a Wonderland town” when the censorship’ scissor hadn’t cut some of most critical scenes, and even more, before the film disappear definitively forever.

The Havana’s Festival also brings the opportunity to meet some international celebrities, relevant moviemakers, and actors with Cuba, although all of them are out of the reach of the general public. In Cuba the idea of any sort of red carpet event is a heresy. So, for the majority of Cubans, those celebrities are only a picture in some newspapers or a little touch of glamour in National Television.

At the end, all of those international movie stars are coming to Cuba to have a peek about a rare specimen in the political landscape. Some of them are coming in a crusade to obtain a few minutes of glory with Fidel Castro, as Sean Penn did recently, or many others like Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola or Michael Douglas, a few weeks ago.

Far away from the spark of glamour of the celebrities, if any, and the vibrancy of the public in their desperation to catch some movies, another kind of scenery is mounted. Those days in Havana are also days were the establishment mount a huge security network in every movie theatre, around the perimeter of the any institution involved with the Festival, in the hotels were all the guests are lodged. And definitively, all the translators are working hand to hand with the security forces. Not with the intentions to protect the event, the hostess and the guests, but in first place to know every single detail about what each of them are doing, where they are going and to whom they are meeting.

Usually, the “Hotel Nacional” is the heart of the event for the international celebrities. And it is there where the security forces establish its headquarters. There are rooms in that hotel where the G2, as we know the politic police in Cuba, use as coordination office for the group of “translators” and “tourist’s guides” for the event.

At the same time, the authorities increase the vigilance over the movement of the dissidents and western embassies’ staff, and especially, over US Interest Section and its staff’s members who always have a tail chasing their trail.

Through the times, the Havana’s Festival had had its shining moments like when “Strawberry and Chocolate” won the highest award. Today, many of the founders and famous names that credited it had left Havana, and some of them even had expressed publicly critics against the regime, like Pedro Almodovar in 2003.

Even at the movies, Havana harvests bitter sweet results. But for a few days, Havana, the city and its people vibrate with joy and life, a luxury that only happens one time in a year: at the movies.