Magazine article Variety

Officially or Not, Cuba Loosens Grip

Magazine article Variety

Officially or Not, Cuba Loosens Grip

Article excerpt

A new breed of filmmaker is emerging in Cuba, where travel restrictions to and from the U.S. have eased, allowing digitalsavvy helmers - many of them alumni of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez-founded Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV (EICTV), which has spawned two generations of Latin American and Cuban filmmakers - to aim at a wider audience.

Helmer-scribe Alejandro Brugues' zombie satire "Juan of the Dead" drew thousands of rabid filmgoers at its Havana Film Fest preem in 2011, and has been sold to 40 countries. Now he's prepping his first English-lingo pic, to be shot in Cuba. Tentatively titled "The Wrong Place," the pic tracks a retired thief who has been exiled to the island nation, with his dwindling funds motivating him to pull one more heist.

"Our government didn't notice 'Juan' until it became successful, and then they realized they didn't like it," says Brugues, whose satire takes some sharp digs at the current state of affairs in Cuba. "They say censorship has loosened, but that's not entirely true."

National film org Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematografieos (ICAIC) wanted Havana's December Festival of New Latin American Cinema to pull the plug on Carlos Lechuga's feature debut "Melaza" (Molasses) for its political tone, says Brugues, who co-produced the drama The pic is set against the closure of a sugar mill and the impact the shuttering has on a young couple. ICAIC, the sole distributor of Cuban pics on the communist island nation, has no intentions of releasing the pic, but Lechuga has been fielding offers from various fests, and has taken the film to Rotterdam. Next up is Miami, where it will have its U.S. debut.

Lechuga, who adapted another Havana Fest feature debut, Charlie Medina's blackand-white "Penumbra," based on the allegorical baseball play "Penumbra en el noveno cuarto" by Amado del Pino, is prepping a more mainstream project, "Vampires on Bicycles." "Vampires" is set in the early 1990s, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Cuba's key trade partner and benefactor, plunged it into economic crisis. In Lechuga's pic, the ensuing famine turns people into vampires. One of them converts a Yank Tank - slang for the vintage American cars that pepper Havana's streets - into a taxi, and preys on his passengers.

One sign that the grip of censorship may be loosening somewhat is that helmer Daniel Diaz Torres' wry comedy "La Película de Ana," about an actress who pretends to be a prostitute in order to earn extra money, is being released by ICAIC, which backs just four to five nonfiction Cuban pics a year, as well as a handful of co-productions. …

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