Cuba is no stranger to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Historically, it is also extremely familiar with visits from international celebrities. Before the revolution, Cuba was a playground for the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, and others who frequented its popular local spots, such as the famous Tropicana Cabaret, the Floridita Bar, and more. Although the country seems to have frozen in time with its rich architecture, history, varied scenery, and diverse topography, it continues to thrive in ingenuity, talent, and creativity. In this blog, I will be sharing more about the history of film in Havana and the beginnings of what is known today as the Habana Film Festival.
Introduction of Film in Cuba
Like many Latin American countries, Cuba lived the introduction of cinema in the 19th century. The first arrival of the cinematograph took place in 1897. The device was a film camera, projector, and printer. It was invented and disseminated by French brothers Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Lumiére. Early cinema locations opened their doors in Havana along the famous Paseo del Prado, one of Havana’s most beautiful streets, set between Downtown Havana and the historic Old Havana. Other locations, such as the Panorama Soler and the Vitascopio de Edison hosted viewings for film enthusiasts. At the time, films mostly originated from Europe and North America. These were available sporadically before the development of significant motion pictures.
Cinema Before the Cuban Revolution
Before the revolution of 1959, approximately 80 films were on record as produced in Cuba. Some notable films that emerged during this period were La Virgen de La Caridad, a product of the silent era, and Romance del Palmar. During the period, Cuba also served as a location for several films. Some examples are To the Ends of the Earth in 1948, We Were Strangers in 1949, A Lady Without A Passport with Hedy Lamar in 1950, The Old Man and The Sea in 1958, and Our Man in Havana in 1959 amongst others. This period also proved vital for Cuban talent, which gained recognition in countries like Argentina and Mexico. Some examples are multitalented artists René Cardona and Rita Montaner.
Film Industry After the Cuban Revolution
In early 1959, the Cuban government created a new cinematographic department. This department preceded what is now known as the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). The following organization, in turn, created the quarterly periodical Cine Cubano in 1960, still in circulation today. Until 1965, the ICAIC ran all aspects of film production, distribution, and exhibition in the country. The first ten years of the ICAIC were known as the Golden Decade of cinema in Cuba. Two notable films were amongst the output during this period, Lucia in 1969 and Memorias del Subdesarrollo in 1968. Highly regarded filmmakers Humberto Solás and Tomás Gutiérrez directed these films, respectively.
The Beginnings of The Festival Internacional Del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano
In 1979 the ICAIC was involved in the creation of the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, offering a broader platform to Latin American films. The City of Havana has been hosting the festival every year since 1979. Cuba is also home to The Escuela Internacional de Cine, Televisión y Video de San Antonio de Los Baños, located close to Havana. The university, with its television, video, and film focus, is supported by the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, writer Gabriel García Márquez and the Father of the New Latin American Cinema, Fernando Birri. At this school, hundreds of Latin American students have attended this school to learn direction, scriptwriting, photography, and editing.
Post-Cold War Special Period in Cuba
The post-Cold War became known as the “Special Period” in Cuba. This period represented many financial challenges and setbacks for Cuban people and the film industry alike. One of the most famous films to emerge during this period was Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), a film that treats the topic of intolerance and the exciting friendship between a gay artist and a young communist man. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1994, amongst other international nominations and recognitions. The film also went on to win a Goya Award and a Special Mention at The Sundance Film Festival in 1995. During this period, the Cuban film industry also took a different turn. It now had more considerations, such as budget and promotions of films, to appeal to larger international audiences.
Cuba As A Film Location
As relationships between Cuba and the United States broadened, Cuba emerged as a location destination once again. Today, celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, the Kardashians and Kanye West, Rihanna, and many more continue to visit the Island of Cuba. The film industry has also taken notice. Movies with star power such as The Fate of The Furious in 2017, starring Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, and Dwayne Johnson, as well as Guava Island, starring Donald Glover and Rihanna, have been shot on locations in Cuba.
Cuba is a paradisiac island. The diversity of its population, tropical setting and charming backdrops, variety of destinations, and natural beauty make it an idyllic location for film production. Cuba is also home to nine UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the Valley of Viñales, Santiago de Cuba, and the City of Havana, amongst other natural and historical landmarks. The industry also finds that production and labor costs are lower when filming in Cuba. By producing movies in the Island, the film industry is also contributing to the local Cuban economy by hiring staff, enjoying at onsite eateries, staying in local hotels or private homes, and utilizing other available resources.
Cuba As Inspiration
Cuba, its history, and its people have also served as inspiration for films. Some examples are Our Man in Havana, Guantanamera, and Viva Cuba. It has also been the influence behind other films like The Perez Family with Marissa Tomei, Anjelica Houston, and Alfred Molina, as well as the famous Scarface, starring Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The famed Brian de Palma directed the latter film.
41st Habana Film Festival
This year, the City of Havana will be hosting its 41st Habana Film Festival, also known as the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano. This event draws thousands of professionals from the film industry each year, promoting the latent talent originating from Latin America and the Caribbean. The festival is also frequented by renown film and artistic figures such as Spanish Director Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Talk To Her), actors and directors like Robert Redford (Out Of Africa, A River Runs Through It), and Francis Ford Coppola (Patton, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby), and Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, known for his famous works such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and many more.
The Habana Film Festival Then & Now
The Habana Film Festival had its origins in 1979. It began as a continuation of other neighboring artistic festivals in Venezuela and Chile, such as the Viña del Mar International Song Festival. The Habana Film Festival is a meeting of the minds, a magnet for artists and creators from the performing arts and film industry. The agenda for the festival includes events, tributes, special presentations, screenings, training seminars, professional networking opportunities, and an award ceremony.
Recipients of the awards are recognized with a Premio Coral. The ceremony recognizes top talent in the categories of Best Feature Film – Fiction, Best Feature Film – Documentary, Short Film and Feature Film (Fiction and Documentary), Best Opera Prima, Best Animated Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Poster, Best Postproduction Editing, with other categories and awards for related roles.
Travel Planning for Cuba
This year, the Habana Film Festival will be taking place from December 5th to the 15th in Havana. To plan your legal travel to Cuba from the U.S., it is highly recommended to work with an experienced and professional Cuba travel agency in Miami such as OnCuba Travel. The agency has locations in Midtown Miami and a centrally located office in Havana, close to the Malecón in the Vedado neighborhood. Both offices have local teams available to assist travelers with their plans and questions. The agency’s professional staff can help you select from the 11 approved reasons to travel to Cuba to best meet your professional and educational activities. They can also help you navigate the latest changes regarding the people to people exchange category for travel and understand the shift in policy to travel to Cuba by cruise and private vessels.
While in Cuba, it is also essential to maintain a full agenda of activities to meet the minimum travel requirements to visit the Island. The expert team at OnCuba Travel can help travelers create a program with compliant activities to best enjoy your interests and bucket list items in Cuba during your stay. They can also help you obtain your visa and roundtrip flights, following the most recent travel restrictions and regulations to travel to Cuba.
While you are there, why not enjoy flavorful Cuban cuisine, visit a Vegas-style show like that at the Club Tropicana, or take car tour with a ride in a classic car across the Malecón in Havana? If you prefer to drive, the helpful team at OnCuba Travel can also help you to rent a car at Havana airport with pick up at the location or facilitate all airport transfers with a safe, private, and reliable car service. Learn more about available excursions and group programs in Havana and contact OnCuba Travel to start your travel plans.