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"THE FESTIVAL ISN'T JUST A FOUR MONTH PROCESS": TANIA DELGADO ON DIRECTING THE 45TH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF NEW LATIN AMERICAN CINEMA

Tania Delgado is the director of the renowned Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano (International Festival of New Latin American Cinema), one of the most prestigious film festivals in Latin America. Established in 1979 by Cuban filmmaker and intellectual Alfredo Guevara, the festival emerged in response to the growing recognition of the need to represent and elevate Latin American cinema, which had long been overlooked on the global stage. As the current director of the festival, held annually in Havana, Cuba, Tania plays a pivotal role in maintaining its revolutionary ideals and showcasing contemporary Latin American cinematic achievements. It was a pleasure to sit down with Tania in advance of the screening of Holly Aylett and Michael Chanan's 1986 documentary, The Havana Report, of the 7th edition of the festival, as part of the inaugural year of Screen Cuba Film Festival. In our conversation, Tania shared insights into her fascinating trajectory, from her training in law to her unexpected journey into her current role. A pivotal figure in curating and showcasing the diverse talents of Latin American filmmakers, Tania shares the challenges and joys of organising a film festival, and advancing the art of cinema in the region, as well as her vision for the future of the Havana Film Festival as it approaches it’s 45th anniversary. 


Stills from The Havana Report, 1989


Can you tell me about your impressive journey into your role as, director of Havana Film Festival, your transition from law to film, and what sparked your interest in film?


It was quite a journey. Before taking on the role of director, I worked at the festival, as a minion – a joke I like to make. I was involved in a behind-the-scenes capacity, managing calls and organising logistics, but I wasn't part of the festival leadership, or anything like that. Then, last year, I was invited to become the director of the film festival, which was something I had never thought about. I'm not a filmmaker or a critic, and so didn’t initially anticipate this role. In Cuba, when I was growing up, we had a tradition of going to the cinema, this doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. But, when I was growing up, I have very fond memories of being taken to the cinema by my parents every week, to a cinema that was close to our house. At University, I studied law, both my mother and father are lawyers, and so am I. I worked as a lawyer for many years. However, my journey into the arts began when I joined the Copyright Centre of Cuba. I’d always had an interest in arts, I’d studied music and so to me it felt like a natural process to begin to work with all of that. I wrote my thesis about copyright law and began working with the Centre after graduating. After a few years of working closely with the lawyers at ICAIC, I was invited to join the Centre as part of the Animation Studios. I was very young at the time, 28, and this was very exciting. I am also somewhat of an animation nerd, and it was a great experience. It was amazing and beautiful, I got to know the beginning and the end of the whole creative process, something that I didn’t think in my wildest dreams that I would be doing. In 2018, I was approached to participate in the process of changing the legislation for independent producers. So, I worked as Vice President for ICAIC for five years, overseeing the production processes for independent films and managing foreign relationships. Finally, last year there was the need for presidency the Havana Film Festival, which I had been attending and involved with through my work with ICAIC, they asked me to do it – and so I said I would. 


The Havana Film Festival 2022 at the Payet Theater in Havana, Cuba. Courtesy of Maisna/Dreamstime.


Tell me a bit about your inaugural year?


This work is undeniably beautiful and incredibly creative. You meet a lot of people in the cinema industry. But it is a challenge also, for example, last year we received almost 2000 film submissions, from which our programmers had to select less than 10% of for the festival. So it is a very hard process, which also has to be done within four months or so. Not only do you have to watch all those films, but you also have to curate, and organise the entire programme. This includes not only the film screenings but also the industry sector programme, which is built from scratch each year. We need to consider the interests of both the industry and the Latin American audience, ensuring that our festival serves as both a showcase for Latin American cinema and a platform for networking and collaboration. One of the main objectives of the festival is to serve as a meeting point for everyone involved in the industry. The festival is held in December, at the end of the year, almost the beginning of the next one, marking the transition from one year to the next. It’s a moment to reflect on the year’s work and to prepare for the year ahead. It is a challenging but immensely gratifying experience.  


Can you tell me a little bit about what you look for in the films that you show at the festival?


We don't adhere to specific topics or film styles at our festival. Instead, our selection process revolves around identifying films that we believe are exceptional or particularly representative of the region. For instance, last year, out of the 2000 submissions we received, we showcased two films from Guatemala, which is a country that you almost never think about in terms of cinematography. But it was fantastic. We don’t limit ourselves, we prioritise the quality and essence of the films themselves. Last year, during our curation process, we began to notice a prevalent theme among the selected films: family dynamics and also violence. The films explored various aspects of familial life and interpersonal relationships: family dysfunctionalities, relationships between family members, challenges faced by adolescents, and all kinds of violence. Sometimes the films lead you to that path organically. That's the beauty of the selection process; it often leads us to unexpected discoveries. Deciding on which films to include in the festival can be a very challenging and subjective task. Our discussions are rich and diverse, reflecting the different tastes, experiences and personal perspectives of our team. Ultimately, it’s this diversity of viewpoints that enriches our selection process and ensures that we present a compelling and varied programme to our audience. 


How has your experience of joining the festival planning midway this year influenced your understanding of the festival's timeline and the collaborative process involved in planning for both the current and future editions?


I began last year's festival in during the middle of the process, and while I had been involved with the festival from my office at ICAIC, I didn’t get the process from the beginning. The festival isn’t just a four month process, it’s a year old journey, that demands attention to every detail. As a team, we brain storm ideas, reflecting on what worked and what we can improve. Last year marked the 44th anniversary and so we were already thinking about the 45th. Our aim isn’t to overextend ourselves but to keep the festival fresh and vibrant with innovative ideas and collective effort.


Still from La edad de la peseta by Pavel Giroud (2006), presented by the festival at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in February


What is the ethos of the festival? 


The Havana Film Festival began in 1979, when it emerged as a pivotal gathering point for Latin American filmmakers. It was born out of a profound need to provide a platform for the burgeoning cinema of the region, especially amidst the backdrop of political turmoil and cultural transformation in Central and South America. At the time, Latin America wasn’t seen anywhere. Latin American films struggled for recognition on the global stage, despite the rich culture and importance of the region. The festival sought to rectify this by offering a spotlight for these films, showcasing their depth, diversity and cultural significance. Over the years, the festival’s core mission remained unwavering: to serve as a point of encounter for Latin American filmmakers, industry professionals, and cinephiles. It became a nexus where filmmakers, producers, critics and audiences converged to celebrate the art of storytelling through film. Beyond mere entertainment, the festival became a space for dialogue, exchange, and collaboration, fostering connections that transcended borders and bridged cultures. While we honour our past and the traditions that have shaped us, we also recognise the need to adapt to changing times and technologies. We have to embrace innovation in order to maintain those core values. This responsibility weighs heavily on the Festival, as it represents the culmination of years of dedication from countless individuals who have contributed to the festival's success. From pioneers like Alfredo Guevara, Julio García Esponiza, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Humberto Solás, etc., to the talented filmmakers and industry professionals who have emerged from Latin America, the festival's impact is profound. It's not just a celebration of cinema; it's a testament to the dreams and aspirations of an entire region. The Foundation of New Latin American Cinema and the establishment of the School of Cinema and Television are just a few milestones in our journey. We've come a long way, but there's still much work to be done. The festival serves as a reminder of our collective dreams and aspirations, and it's an honor to be part of that legacy.


Tomás Gutiérrez Alea filming in 1968, image courtesy of ASPECT


How do you think that those revolutionary dynamics have changed or stayed consistent over the years?


The dynamics of revolution played a big part in shaping the perspectives and movements within Latin America. If you know a little bit about Cuban history, you will know that figures like our national hero, Jose Marti, emphasised the unity of Latin America despite its diverse cultures. He spoke about Latin America as a whole thing, the continent a sum of its parts, as a whole culture. There are many different cultures, many different screens in the South but in the end it’s Latin America. This sentiment has permeated through the revolutionary movements, influencing the cinematic and cultural landscape. While there may be nuances and shifts over the decades, the core objective remains consistent: to foster unity, facilitate dialogue, and promote cultural exchange. The revolution serves as a driving force to preserve our collective heritage with the world.


What are your goals for the future of the festival? For this year?


For the festival itself, the goal remains the same: to curate an exceptional selection of films and to attract audiences. However, we’re facing challenges, particularly with dwindling cinema audiences after COVID, and with increasingly limited access to technology needed for screenings. We’re also focused on trying expanding our reach beyond Havana to all Cuban provinces, but this is hindered by technological constraints. As for the programme, we aim to maintain around 200 – 220 titles. On the industry side, as we approach the 45th anniversary, we’re reflecting on the past while planning for the future. We’re revaluating our strategies to engage younger audiences and exploring new avenues for film distribution. Distribution is often overlooked in favour of production funding, but it’s crucial for the sustainability of the industry. This year, our main focus in the industry sector is distribution. We’re planning sessions to discuss this topic and hoping to bring film commissions on board to showcase the realities of different countries and the opportunities in them. Our aim is to create a platform for filmmakers, producers, and distributers to network and collaborate. It’s a challenging task to coordinate all these elements, but it’s also the beauty of the job. It requires bringing together diverse stakeholders, negotiating schedules, and finding common ground. It’s about creating an environment where creativity thrives and connections are made. And while it’s a daunting task, it’s also incredibly rewarding to see the festival come together and make a meaningful impact on the film industry. 


The 45th edition of the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano will take place in Havana from December 5 to 15, 2024.


 

Agnès Houghton-Boyle is a critic and programmer based in London. Her writing features in Talking Shorts Magazine and Fetch London.

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