Entering its second decade the most important US film festival with a focus on Cuban film making has expanded its programs and venues including links with some of the most prestigious New York art institutions. As a member of the group which established the Havana Film Festival in New York in 2001 I was fortunate to secure some funding from the Ford Foundation for bringing Cuba film makers to the festival, a practice which was continued in the following years contingent on funding and the vagaries of the US State Department. Much credit for the expansion of the Havana Film Festival in New York to other venues, its continued success as measured in an increase in sponsorship, and the steadily growing audience go to Carole Rosenberg, who serves as the executive director of the fest and is the driving force behind the festival.
The most important objective of the festival has been from the very beginning to introduce Cuban culture through the medium of Cuban film to the opinion shaping public which otherwise had very little access to Cuban culture, given the restrictive measures of US foreign policy toward Cuba, to state it mildly. In this context we should note that her husband, the art dealer and appraiser Alex Rosenberg was among those instrumental in securing in the late 80s the consent decree making it legal for US art dealers to import Cuban art. Thus they were ideally positioned to establish up a cultural bridge between Cuba and the United States through the festival and the non-profit American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba which they also organized.
The first edition of the festival was held in March 2000 at the Anthology Film Archives, noted venue for independent films, providing an overview of 41 years of Cuban film making and several award winning films from the Havana Film Festival. More than 40 productions were shown including features documentaries, shorts, and animated films but also seminars held on Cuban films and their distribution in the United States.
Ivan Giroud, the head of the Havana Film Festival lent a guiding hand in programming the New York event which was opened by Harry Belafonte. Other notables were part of the festival programs in following years. One memorable session which I organized for the festival was presented in 2002 at the Harvard Club with Danny Glover and Congressman Charles Rangel discussing US Cuban Relations. Charles Rangel stressed the crucial role of economic interests and trade in unfreezing US – Cuban
Over the next 10 years the Havana Film Festival in New York expanded with significant additions. Cuba did not produce enough productions to fill an annual program schedule thus a greater number of films from other Latin American countries premiering at the Havana Film Festival was incorporated in the HFFNY. Eventually significant Latin American Films which had not been shown in Havana became part of the program.
One new important component of the festival are community outreach programs. These are numerous events held free of charge in well established locations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Museum of Art, El Museo Del Barrio, and the King Juan Carlos I Center at NYU. Some screenings started before them festival and covered animated, fiction films, as well as films for children and families and documentaries. A panel on the “Business of Film Making in Latin America and the United States forms part of the free programs the festival provides. Last not least as distinct from many other festivals, the website for the festival is most consumer friendly (www.hffny.com).
A comparison of the 2000 to the 2010 edition demonstrates the significant success story of the HFFNY, which is significant since many new film festivals have an average life span of about three years or do not expand. In 2000 the weeklong festival featured about 40 productions in one venue hosting six Cuban film makers The 2010 edition started with a special event on April 7th and ends on April 23rd and carries 40 production from 15 Latin American countries and the United States, including 11 films from Cuba and three US-Cuba productions. Among the most recent Cuban 2009 productions which can be seen are ANECTODAS SOBRE FIDEL / ANECDOTES ABOUT FIDEL (Estela Bravo, doc, US-Cuba), LA ANNUCIACION / THE ANNUNCIATION (Enrique Pineda Barnet, Fict.), LA MAREA ( Armando Capo Doc), CLOSE UP ( Damian Saiz & Roger Herrera, Doc.), HOMO ERECTUS (Alejandro Lora, 2010, Fict.), EL PREMIO FLACO / THE BODY PRIZE ( Juan Carlos Cremeta & Irada Malberti, Fict.). This year’s edition of the festival also includes the just introduced Havana Star Prize for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay for which 15 films compete. For the first time after several years there will be again a Cuban delegation with nine distinguished directors, actors and media professionals. Equally important are more than 20 directors and producers from other Latin American countries and the US joining the festival.
By now the Havana Film Festival New York has become an indispensible depository of films from Cuba and an invaluable source of information (firstname.lastname@example.org). In combination with other activities and outreach programs carried out by the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation, the festival has indeed helped to provide a better understanding of Cuba and to overcome the information embargo.