The Dark Side of the Festival / Yoani Sánchez

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The year’s most anticipated month is December, with its cold fronts that allow us to “bundle up” and with the films of International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema. I remember, in particular, one evening in 1992 when the glass in the doors of the Acapulco cinema shattered before the onslaught of hundreds of people wanting to see a film from Argentina, The Dark Side of the Heart. I’m not exaggerating the enthusiasm, since it was only in this last month of the year that we could enjoy something other than Soviet movies, something with more artistic value than the American thrillers on national television. Very few, at that time, had a VCR to play videos, and the magic of the dark hall with the projector purring behind us was almost intact.

But the Festival, now in its 33rd incarnation, has been losing ground in the cultural life of Havana. In part because the pirated serials, soap operas and Hollywood productions lead many to prefer to stay home to enjoy their DVD-player or clandestine satellite dish. Movie-goers are also discouraged by the fact that dozens of neighborhood movie theaters have closed, such as the comfortable Bayamo of my childhood, the majestic Rex and Duplex, or the centrally-located Cuba cinema. But the principal festival of Latin American film has had other setbacks that spring from within, limitations arising from its own structure.

Censorship, works shown only once while others hog the schedule, authors not accepted for having “exceeded” social and political criticism, are some of the incidents that have impoverished the festival. The centralization of decision making, personified in the figure of Alfredo Guevara, imparts an effect on the festival similar to that generated by the excessively vertical government in our country. With such antecedents, the exclusion on this occasion of the film Vinci, from the director Eduardo del Llano, shouldn’t even surprise us. In response to the letter of protest from the creator of shorts such as Monte Rouge and Exit, the Festival’s senior management could only appeal to thematic considerations. But many of us know what it’s really about: Del Llano is an uncomfortable author and his productions are accepted with clenched teeth because they touch the wounds of a reality that the official discourse tries to cover over with make-up. Fortunately, the same alternative networks that broadcast the Brazilian soap operas and reality shows, might also propagate — briefly — the rejected film. So, we’ll just turn off the lights in our own living rooms, click the remote control and start the projection, a private function where no one can decide what we can see and what we can’t.

17 November 2011