"Havana is a marvelous place, not just for its architecture and climate, but because of its people," commented Puerto Rican film actor Benicio del Toro, who has just finished shooting the first story of Siete días en La Habana (Seven Days in Havana), a collective film project scripted in part by Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and whose central character is the Cuban capital.
Precisely the conclusion of Del Toro’s first directorial effort, prompted a press conference attended by three of the other directors participating in the film, Argentine Pablo Trapero, Palestinian Elia Suleiman and Cuban Juan Carlos Tabío. The seven involved are completed by Argentine Gaspar Noé, Spaniard Julio Médem and Frenchman Laurent Cantet.
The film’s panoramic commitment was provided by its Spanish producer Alvaro Longoria and Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, who is writing some of the screenplay and coordinating the link connecting the stories.
The producer affirmed that, "because of its richness and enchantment, portraying Havana may seem easy but that is not at all the case. We are not conforming to the usual themes: old American cars, the spell cast by its women of color, or buildings at the point of collapsing, the objective is to go to the essence of this special city and of its people."
Longoria described those challenges and assured that the film, the shooting of which began March 4 and ends May 6, might possibly premiere at the end of the year at some important festival, "at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema if we’re invited."
Regarding Siete días en La Habana, Padura explained that the stories take place over 24 hours of every day of one week and, approaching the plots and scripts, told us that even though each one has a specific story, some of the characters are involved with others, and also places like the Hotel Nacional and the Malecón, are shared backgrounds for some of the chapters, which gives coherence to the film.
The writer, known for his crime novels, emphasized that "each story, of about 15 minutes, has its director’s perspective, his way of understanding reality, of making film, his esthetics. "The film passes through comedy, tragicomedy and drama."
Regarding the sound track, Longoria noted that they have Cuban musicians Kelvis Ochoa and Descemer Bueno as advisors.
MONDAY WITH DEL TORO
Benicio del Toro, winner of an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Palme d’Or in Cannes, has put himself behind the camera for the first time to film Padura’s filmscript El Yuma. With a brilliant acting career in films such as Traffic, Che, The Usual Suspects and 21 Grams, it was Del Toro who initiated the shooting of Siete días en La Habana.
His story, El Yuma, slang for foreigner in Cuba, had its locations on the busy streets of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood; for example, close to La Zorra y el Cuervo club, where jazz is king, right on Havana’s La Rampa; the Hotel Nacional, usual headquarters of the Havana Film Festival; and farther over on the colonial Prado; and the Malecón, the seafront drive which skirts the coast.
As Del Toro told the press, the greatest challenge he faced was planning the shots and what he most enjoyed were the actors, including Josh Hutcherson from the U.S. and Vladimir Cruz (the main characters), Daysi Granados, Laura de la Uz and Luis Alberto García, all outstanding names in Cuban cinematography. "Havana is a marvelous place, not just for its architecture and climate, but because of its people, and those who worked on the film gave it their all, I feel very proud working with them."
About his anecdote, he revealed that it narrates the adventures of young American (Hutcherson) who arrives in Cuba to attend a seminar at the San Antonio de los Baños Film School, stays at the Hotel Nacional and ends up in an adventure being shown the non-tourist side of Havana by a taxi driver (Vladimir Cruz).
El Yuma is a comic story and Del Toro commented that he shot enough material "for three movies," and will now have to edit it down to the allocated 15 minutes.
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