April 9, 2001

Havana Film Festival returns to New York

Daily News, April 9, 2001.

A rare treat for film buffs is coming to New York in a few days — and Queens will play a big role in it.

April 16-23, New Yorkers — who, like all Americans, are forbidden by the U.S. government to travel freely to Cuba — will be able to attend the acclaimed Havana Film Festival, right here in the city.

Seventeen of the movies will be shown at the Center Cinemas in Sunnyside.

"This is an opportunity for Americans to become acquainted with Cuban films and exchange ideas with Cuban filmmakers," says the festival's executive director, Kenneth Halsband. And not only Cuban.

Now in its 23rd year, the Cuban festival is international in scope and prestige.

"Amores Perros" ("Love's a Bitch"), a great Mexican film awarded the first prize in Havana in 2000, and an Oscar nominee this year in the category Best Foreign-Language Film, is having a successful commercial run in New York. It also will be featured as one of 60 films shown at the New York version of the Havana festival.

The comedy "It Happened in Havana" will open the festival. Daniel Díaz Torres, its director, is best-known for having made the successful — and politically controversial — "Alicia en el Pueblo de Maravillas." The organizers, though, say the festival's intention is not political.

"The festival has nothing to do with politics; it is a strictly cultural event," Halsband has said. "The impetus for the festival was the films themselves."

This is the second time the Havana festival is to be held in New York, and it presents an outstanding collection of Cuban and other Latin American cinema, featuring winners from this year's festival in Havana.

The program offerings are almost as diverse as the population of Queens, with features, documentaries, shorts and animation from Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Panama.

Films such as the 1999 Ecuadoran "Ratas, Rateros y Ratones" ("Rats, Thieves and Mice") and the 1994 Venezuelan "Sicarios," about the violent youth of Medellin, Colombia, will be only two of 17 movies that can be seen at the Center Cinemas.

Yet, this being the Havana Film Festival, the greatest number of movies come from the Caribbean islands. Some of them, like "Retrato de Teresa" ("Portrait of Teresa"), "Un Hombre de Exito" ("A Successful Man") and "Los Sobrevivientes" ("The Survivors") are true Cuban classics. Others, like "It Happened in Havana," are examples of the kind of film the industry that made "Strawberry and Chocolate" is capable of creating.

"The different times, subjects and techniques of the films give a fascinating idea of four decades of the Cuban industry," Halsband has said. And their quality is sure to come as a surprise to most festivalgoers who, like the majority of Americans, know little about Cuba.

Despite the organizers' denials, the festival, just by virtue of being related to Cuba, inevitably carries political connotations. The possibility that right-wing Cuban-Americans will protest cannot be discounted.

The Havana Film Festival New York 2001 is a unique chance to see some very good movies rarely shown anywhere. It should not be missed.

For more information, visit the Havana Film Festival Web site at, or call (212) 971-4771.


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