Interview: Cuba’s Ivan Giroud, President of the Havana Film Festival

havana-live-ivan-giroudHAVANA, Noiv. 20th Ivan Giroud is a part of that Festival world and actually is now its most important part (aside from the films and filmmakers that is). Starting from zero, he is now considered one of the most qualified specialists in Latin American Cinema

I have been visiting Cuba since 2000 when I went there to perfect my Spanish. My Spanish is still far from perfect but I have grown to love Cuba. Since I went there to learn and happened upon the Havana Film Festival which is held this year December 3rd to 13th, I have returned to the Festival every year and have found a world of great talent which increasingly is raring to get out into the world.

Ivan Giroud is a part of that Festival world and actually is now its most important part (aside from the films and filmmakers that is). Starting from zero, he is now considered one of the most qualified specialists in Latin American Cinema.

Read on to see who he is and how he sees Cuban and Latin American Cinema.

How did you get into film?

I was born in Havana in 1957.

I have loved cinema since I was very young. However I did not study film as there was no cinema school in Cuba until 1986.

I had a general education and graduated in Civil

Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Havana in 1981.

I am self-taught in film – what’s that called?

You are an autodidact.

Yes, an autodidact.

In the 70s, Cuba had the best cinema in the world and the best posters as well. These posters remained the finest posters in the world throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Yes, they are silk-screened and on display and for sale. I myself treasure the poster of one o my favorite fims, “Suite Habana” by Fernando Pérez .

“Suite Habana”
“Suite Habana”

In my last year working as a civil engineer I contacted ICAIC seeking employment. In 1981 friends in film, like Daisy Granados, the star of “Cecilia” gave me work on her film. I met her husband, Pastor Vega, a filmmaker who was also the first Director of the Festival from 1979 to 1990, a post he took after finishing “Portrait of Teresa” Pastor said ‘Come work with me’ and so in 1988 I entered the industry at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), as a senior specialist and organizer of Cuban and Latin American cinema destined for Europe and North America. The job was like a programming job.

The International Festival of the New Latin American Film in Havana (akaHavana Film Festival) had sections for auteurs, socialist countries, American films and docs. It had the best films, was the preeminent film festival for Latin American cinema and was the only market where all of Latin America gathered to consider the films. It still remains a gathering place for the cineastes throughout Latin America and includes a well-respected coterie of the pioneers of Latin American cinema who created the films that best defined Latin America Cinema in the 60s and then were silenced by the dictatorships which prevailed until the 90s….like Raúl Ruiz, Aldo Francia, Patricio Guzmán and Miguel Littin from Chile, Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos from Brazil Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino from Argentina.

At the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991 (known in Cuba as “The Special Period”), I entered the Directorate of the Festival and Vega left and returned to filmmaking. There were other Directors, and in 1994 I became the Director. Alfredo Guevera, the public face of the festival for many years came back to Cuba and became President; we worked together from 1994 to 2010, my first term as the Festival Director.

The Special Period was very, very difficult, the worst of times for everyone and for all Latin American cinema. Brazilian cinema nearly disappeared. The state film organization Embrafilme had been producing 800 films a year and that disappeared for a long time.

Argentina declined in the 90s. Mexico remained active but also declined in the quality of its films. When I began as Director, Cuba was very poor, both economically and creatively. But there was also a generational change and I learned that every decline gives birth to a new generation and new creativity, and so it was.

Schools of films began training new talent. EICTV, the International Film School, funded by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel Prize money opened its doors in 1987. New schools opened in Argentina and Brazil as well. The Havana Film Festival stood as a testimony to this growing generation as it showed the first works and shorts of the likes of Trapero and others in whom you could see new Latam talent developing.

The Havana Film Festival catalogs are a history of cinema as it was the biggest programmer of films. It still gives the best view of Latam cinema today. It is still important as it gives a full picture of Latam cinema and the people in Latam cinema. EICTV is producing the most interesting film makers in the world.

For 37 years the Festival was the best, though today there are not many Latam fests. This one was different. You could get to know the whole cineaste community. It never lost a generation; the older members still make movies and the festival helps them to be seen and known.

In 2010 I went to Madrid where I spent five years. In 2002 I began working on a Dictionary of Iberoamerican Cinema. This 1,000 page book was finished in 2008. From 2008 to 2010 I was the director of the festival from Spain. I also ran an arthouse theater in Madrid, the Sala Berlanga, named after a very important Spanish director a little younger than Bunuel.

In 2012 I wanted to return to Cuba where I worked on the Cuban Dictionary of Film. In April Guevera died and ICAIC pulled me back to be President and Director.

Since May 2013 I have been Director of the Casa del Festival and President of the International Festival of New Cinema in Havana.

What about the filmmaker Pavel Giroud? Is he your brother?

No, he’s my nephew. He came into the business a different way, through design. He began producing music clips and then went to EICTV. From a painter he evolved into a moviemaker. He has made three films. His newest, “El Acompañante” (“The Companion”) won the best project award at San Sebastian’s 2nd Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum in 2013.

This is Giroud’s third solo film after “The Silly Age” and “Omerta”. The producers: Luis Pacheco’s Jaguar Films is Panama’s best-known production/services company. The Cuban producer is Lia Rodriguez who also runs the industry section of the Havana Film Festival.

It is also produced by the Cuba/ Panama-based Arete Audiovisual, Panama’s Jaguar Films, Venezuela’s Trampolin Impulso Creativo and France’s Tu Vas Voir (Edgard Tenembaum) who produced Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries”.

Set in 1988 Cuba, “The Companion” is about a friendship between a disgraced boxer forced to serve as a warden – in Cuban government jingo-speak, a “companion” – for an HIV victim.

“El Acompañante”
“El Acompañante”

What is different about the current state of your festival?

Now there are many Latin American Film Festivals, but ours was and still is different because it allows you to know the whole cineaste community. We never lost a generation. The older generation still is making movies and the younger generation is very present. The Festival helps make them known.

What about the new developments between USA and Cuba?

That is the most asked question today.

We have always had U.S. films and U.S. citizens have always visited in cultural exchanges. We’ve had Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon in the earliest years. We’ve invited Arthur Penn, Sean Penn, John Sayles, the Coen Brothers. Danny Glover and Benecio del Toro are frequent visitors. Annette Benning and Koch Hawk of the Academy were guests. We were always well connected to the U.S. independents so that is nothing new.

The change is that It will be easier for Americans to visit and to learn.

When I went to Cuba the first time, I was actually surprised to see so many Afro-Cubans. For some reason I assumed USA was the only nation with former slaves. I should have realized the Spanish also traded in slaves but only when I was in Cuba did I “get” it. Now I see the world so differently.

In Cuba black and white races mixed and the mixture (the mulatto) is what is a Cuban today. U.S. has segregation by and large. Latinos live together, Asian, African-Americans are all separated and that creates a totally different mentality.ellos-son-nosotros“Ellos son nosotros”

I am very interested in African Diaspora films and Cuba has a lot. I have always enjoyed the documentaries. You can’t see them anywhere else.

This year there is a great documentary, “They are We” (“Ellos son nosotros”). It is anthropological about the Cuban town Matanza. Matanza has some of the best music in Cuba. It investigates their African roots in Sierra Leone and identifies ancestors and where they were from. Determined to find the exact origin of songs coming from there, the Australian filmmaker – researcher spent two years showing images throughout the region in Sierra Leonie until he confirmed that the Cubans were singing songs similar to the language of an ethnic group made extinct because of the slave trade.