Second Annual Cuban Film Festival raises the curtain on our embargoed neighbor

While many filmgoers in the Twin Cities look forward to the annual Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF), taking place in six weeks, there are a few other film festivals upcoming, including the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival and the Italian Film Festival, which both start at the end of March. At the present time, the Second Annual Cuban Film Festival (CFF) is taking place at St. Anthony Main Theatre, for the next five Thursdays (the first screening was last Thursday).

Greg Klave, the festival curator, has brought six Cuban films to the Twin Cities. I wanted to ask Greg a few questions about the Cuban Film Festival, not knowing too much about Cuban films or the Cuban population in the Twin Cities, and he seemed to be game about talking about the importance of Cuban films, how to get involved, support from the Twin Cities, and why most Americans are not allowed to travel to Cuba.

This is the second year of the CFF. How was the turnout last year?
The first year we had a surprising response from the community, with two of the shows sold out and many turned away. Two of the others were close to sell-outs, and the others had a respectable turnout, with over half the theater seats filled. Our discussion groups after the films about the movie and the history of U.S./Cuban relations were also well-attended, and people enjoyed them immensely. We get so much propaganda from the U.S. government and the corporate media that they were a breath of fresh air and information about Cuba's culture and people. As a result of last year's success we were able to fund the visits of three Cuban film directors to Minneapolis for events around MSPIFF.

What got you interested in doing a CFF?
Film is an international language and has helped me stay in touch with people around the world. I had managed a film program in college and was always interested in the foreign and independent films since that awakening of what else in the film world there was. Cuba started their Film Institute after the Revolution in 1959 and now they are known as the pioneer for independent film programs in Latin American countries. They hold the most prestigious Latin American Film Festival every year in December in Havana and have the highest amount of filmgoers per capita of any nation in the world. They see films from all over the world including top films from the USA. Tickets for them are about 10 cents because of the government's support of arts and culture. Cubans are a strong, intelligent, and talented people with a very rich culture and history very much similar to ours in many ways. Americans should be able to know their story without all the U.S. and media propaganda that comes with the mention of "Cuba" in the U.S.

Do you plan on having a CFF every year moving forward?
The Minnesota Cuba Committee is the group behind the Cuban Film Festival, but I hope in the future that it will develop into a Latin America Film Festival as I think we have a large Latin American community in the Twin Cities and we are not exposed to enough views of the nations and peoples who share our hemisphere and are Americans also. There is a large amount of incredible Latin Films coming out or past films that have not been seen by Minnesota audiences.

This year's theme is "The U.S. Government says we can't travel to Cuba, so let's go to the Cuban movies." Why is it that the U.S. can't travel to Cuba? So the government says.
The vast majority of Americans are not allowed to travel to Cuba because the U.S. government and a small percentage of rich Cuban Americans want to starve the people of Cuba into submission to U.S. interests by stopping the flow of any money or goods into their economy. They feel if they make families suffer enough they will blame their government and chose political system and economy more aligned with U.S. foreign policy and business interests. But also the U.S. government and business interests do not trust American citizens' participation in the shaping of U.S. foreign policy, so we are not allowed to see for ourselves what Cuba is like and the Cuban people think because we would come back feeling ashamed and applauded at what our government has been doing to them since 1898 when the U.S. took control from Spain. They also do not want Americans to know that despite a small economy and a restrictive 50 year U.S. embargo, Cuba has been able to have national health care and education system, to the Ph.D. level, free of charge, and are leading the world in music and dance, biotechnology, environmental protection and organic farming.

How did you decide which films to screen for the second annual CFF?
When I went to Cuba on an academic license, the only way to legally get to Cuba from the U.S. unless you are a Cuban-American with family there, I asked people I met what films Americans should see, what Cuban films they were most affected by. I also met with staff from the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) and found out what was available to bring to the US. The Havana Film Festival in NYC was also a big help as they are the American link to Cuba's film industry. There are many films I'd like to show from the past 50 years, but primarily we are concentrating on contemporary films to show Americans that the Cuban film industry puts out many films poking fun at the Cuban system and bureaucracy and the Cuban filmgoers are critical thinkers and sophisticated. So we hope that's the way Americans should approach the policies of our government.

What can people expect when they go to a movie or movies in the festival? Are there discussions afterwards? Are there parties and/or events following each movie?
They can expect to meet interesting people who like to discuss films and Latin America in the great setting of the historic riverfront overlooking downtown Minneapolis. It's romantic and visually stunning. After each film we grab a drink or beer from Pracna on Main and meet to discuss the topics that the film has brought up, led by a professional from the academic community studying Cuba or a Cuban themselves. Expect to earn new viewpoints and perspectives. I love it as much as going to the film. Also we have a closing reception at Pracna on Main after the last film of the festival, on Cuba's most popular band, Los Van Van [above], with Cuban musical artists from the area. They are Viviana Pintado and Frank Rivera of Salsabrosa and Gloria Riviera of Salsa del Soul, and they will treat us to the best of Cuba's musical traditions. There will be dancers from Cuban choreographer and instructor Rene Thompson's dance studio.

How can people in the Twin Cities community become active or learn more about what's going on in Cuba after they've seen movies at the festival?
It is easy just go to minnesotacubacommittee.org for local or lawg.org for national news links and events about Cuba. Support people to people programs and travel ban challenging trips to Cuba like we advocate at the Minnesota Cuba Committee website. We want to raise enough money through the film festival to showcase more Cuban film directors and actors here in Minnesota and help fund the production of films in Cuba by Cubans for the American audience to see!

What has been the biggest surprise or challenge in putting the CFF on?
The biggest challenge is in organizing and putting this Cuban Film Festival on. It's takes a huge amount of energy, time, and committed volunteers. The next big challenge is from U.S. journalists who throw an editorial jab at Cuba's government whenever they get a chance, even when it's reviewing Cuban movies or something apolitical. It's like they are obliged to toe the U.S. propaganda line or no one will read their paper or pay their salary. There is very little independence in the U.S. media networks. Therefore it is a challenge to talk with people about the issues that keep us alienated from our closest neighbor and keep Americans from focusing on changing this policy through political and community involvement. The surprise is the outpouring of interest in the Cuban history, people and culture through the Film Festival. The quality of the films from a small country is outstanding. Cubans are so aware of their literature and film arts. The surprise has also been my personal and spiritual growth as I've come into contact with the people and institutions who have helped to put this film festival together.

115 S.E. Main St.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
115 Main St. S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Phone: 
612-331-4723

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    Jim Brunzell III's picture
    Jim Brunzell III

    Jim Brunzell III (djguamwins [at] yahoo [dot] com) was born in the 70's, went to school in the 80's, played sports in the 90's, and has been writing on film for the Daily Planet since 2007.  He is also the Festival Director and programmer for the Sound Unseen Music/Film/Art festival in the Twin Cities, lead programmer for the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin and Stockholm WI, the creator of "The Defenders" series at the Trylon microcinema and has been working on a novel since finishing college.  You can follow Jim on Twitter at (@JimBrunzell_3).