Cuba: Festival bans film portraying Castro’s ill treatment of homosexuals

9 January 2017
Photo: Santa y Andrés Facebook page

The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) decided to ban the film ‘Santa y Andrés’, which had been pre-selected for display at the Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, also known as the Havana Film Festival, that took place 8-18 December 2016. The film was deemed contrary to Revolutionary values and thus not suitable for the festival, reported Clarín on 9 December 2016.

In a public letter, ICAIC president Roberto Smith stated: “The film presents an image of the Revolution as an expression of intolerance and violence against culture, and makes irresponsible use of our patriotic symbols and unacceptable references to comrade Fidel”.

Homosexual intellectuals
‘Santa y Andrés’, written and directed by Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, is a fictional story inspired by the lives of Reinaldo Arenas, Delfín Prats, Virgilio Piñeira and other Cuban homosexual intellectuals, who were banned from publishing and displaying their work during what was known as the “quinquenio gris” (grey quinquennial) from 1971 to 1976.

“It comes as a way to pay homage to writers and artists that were not allowed to do their work, like Arenas himself,” Lechuga said. “But also to some artists of earlier generations, such as Lezama Lima, who suffered equally.”

Fernando Pérez, considered the most important Cuban filmmaker alive, said that censoring the film was “an error” because “freedom is the only way, honesty the only manner, and exercise of one’s own criterion the only nourishment for our film industry and our country”.

“It’s a tough movie, it’s hard, I’m aware it can trigger opposed reactions, but what can’t be done is excluding it from discussion,” Pérez said.

Film ignored
While not outright banned or censored, Ricardo Figueredo’s film, ‘La Singular Historia de Juan Sin Nada’, was ignored by the Havana Film Festival. The film was presented and turned down, with no official reason for the decision.

“I’m not saying they censored me, but no one called me – not even to thank me for presenting my film to the festival. I was simply ignored” said Figueredo told Diario de Cuba.

This film narrates the story of an average working-class Cuban who makes a salary below the official minimum wage and shows the struggles he has to go through on a daily basis. Though fictional, the film is presented in a documentary style, including interviews as part of its content.

*** UPDATE: ‘Santa y Andrés’ was pulled out from official competition at the Havana Film Festival in New York, though the film will still be screened at the event, reported El Nuevo Herald on 16 March 2017.

The film producers learned about the changes via the internet as festival organizers did not notify them about the removal of the film from competition, reported La Opinión on 23 March 2017.

“In a strange circumstance I found out that Cuban authorities tried to take my film off the festival.” Lechuga said. “At this moment the film has been excluded from the official competition; excluded once again because of its political tone.”

Carole Rosenberg, executive director of the Havana Film Festival in New York, said the decision to pull the film from official competition was not in response to pressure from Cuban authorities, but due to the “political gossip” that is surrounding it “on the Internet”.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, but our mission is to build bridges and we have always kept out of political issues of both countries,” Rosenberg told El Nuevo Herald. “We do not participate in political gossip, this is not how we operate. And suddenly all of this comes out. I simply felt that I did not want to be a part of this.”

The Havana Film Festival in New York ran from 24 March to 7 April 2017.

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