Chris Bartter tells us about an unlikely countercultural film festival in Cuba, and an even more unlikely link with Glasgow.
What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Film Festival’? Cannes? Celebrities? Multi-million media tycoons? It might be good to bring your attention to an increasingly celebrated film festival that features none of these things.
Once every two years a small Cuban town – way off the beaten track even for Cuba – plays host to the International Cine Pobre Film Festival; a festival that has now earned an international reputation. This year Eirene Houston, Scottish screenwriter and director of the Havana Glasgow Film Festival which started last year, was one of the jurors for the four days of film!
Held in Cuba’s Gibara (a small fishing town 700 miles from Havana), the Cine Pobre Festival (Cine Pobre literally translates as ‘Poor Cinema’ but more accurately means ‘Low Budget’) was started by well-known Cuban film director Humberto Solas in 2003.
Eirene Houston says “Gibara was declared a National Monument in 2004 and despite the remoteness, or perhaps because of it, Cine Pobre has become a very special and well loved festival. The very close relationship that has been built over the years between the festival and the people of Gibara is so much of what gives the festival its charm.”
Low budget the films are, but not poor quality. It's a type of cinema of restricted economic possibilities, made in less developed countries, or increasingly in better off countries where independent film makers have fewer and fewer resources. Solas was clear that “this will mean in the near future the insertion into cinematography of social groups and communities who had never before had access to the exercise of film production.” His vision was to utilize new technologies in filmmaking to “tear down the wall of film distribution, which is dominated by a handful of transnationals and which alienates the public.” (Humberto Solas Manifiesto del Cine Pobre: see http://cinefagos.net/paradigm/index.php/otros-textos/documentos/432-manifiesto-del-cine-pobre)
This opening up of the filmmaking process to community and social groups continues in the ethos of the festival despite Solas’ death from cancer in 2008. And it extends to the involvement of all of Gibara. Eirene says “The opening ceremony involves the participants in a parade through the town down the main hill, and the whole town turns out to watch and get involved in the festivities! And the juries go round the town’s local committees to give presentations of the films.”
Over forty films were selected for the competition, including fictional shorts and feature films, documentaries, and animations and video art. Eirene says “The films had both quality and diversity. Filmmakers from every continent were represented, from countries with a long-established cinematic tradition (United States, India, Germany, France, Burkina Faso) and others with an emerging industry (Chad, Ecuador, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mauritania). The themes covered were similarly eclectic, including serious, historical, funny and heart-warming looks at love, migration, communication, alienation and engagement."
The films came from all over the world, and while the main winner was a US film, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones, all the other category winners came from Cuba. In an exciting coup for the Second Havana Glasgow Film Festival due in November, Eirene has managed to snaffle the winners.
“We’ll run a ‘Cine Pobre’ day.” She says. “I have the category winners. The films we'll be showing are the documentary Humberto, La Pared de Las Palabras (as another chance to see), feature documentary El Tren de La Linea Norte, video short El Bohio, La Despidida a short Documentary, the winner of our planned smartphone competition and then Tangerine.” Other significant films will be announced with the rest of the Festival programme.
The new chair of the Cine Pobre festival is Jorge Perugorria, star of probably the best-known Cuban film of modern times – Fresa y Chocolate. He is clear that he has a responsibility and a commitment to continue Solas’ work. He wants to make the Cine Pobre Festival an annual event, and wants to continue the connection between Cuba and Glasgow. If this year’s plans are successful, it seems a regular slot is quite likely!
Chris Bartter is a Glasgow-based writer and cultural activist, blogging at captaingrumping.blogspot.co.uk. Chris was the Communications Officer at UNISON Scotland for 20 years.