My experience of HGFF 2015: Laura Macfarlane

The first Havana Glasgow Film Festival has passed, and it didn’t go unnoticed. There were a mix of things that were significant for me, and which I believe made helping out with the festival so special.

To start with, the vast array of Cuban films and culture which were present in Glasgow made for a unique and wonderful occasion. Fernando Pérez’s emotional ‘La Pared de Las Palabras’ and the UK premiere of ‘Conducta’ impressed and had us all reflecting. Barbara Orton’s ‘In Cuba They’re Still Dancing’ and ‘Day of the Flowers’ written by festival director, Eirene Houston, captured the essence of the twin city relationship. Hugo Rivalta’s Cuban cinema talk with film footage informed us of its interesting history, and the very cinematic music videos produced by Alejandro Valera entertained. And I feel that all of these films transported me to Cuba along with the audience.

With regards to culture, the pre-film and after parties filled with mojitos and salsa music had a great ambience and brought a little bit of metaphorical Havana sun to the cold, and at times rather rainy, city of Glasgow. I also had the chance to sample some Cuban-style cuisine at the Stravaigin Cuban Food Night, including ‘bollitos de carito’ (black-eyed pea fritters) and ‘quimbombó’ (an okra stew with plantain dumplings), a favourite of Hugo’s, and which he confirmed had an authentic taste.

It is all fine and well to have the films, but the festival would not have been complete without the people. We were all lucky to be graced by the presence of talented industry professionals, notably, Fernando Pérez, the top Cuban film director, and also the filmmaker Hugo Rivalta who had left Cuba for the first time in order to come to this event. They were good-natured, witty, and made everyone feel welcome.

All the same, we were lucky to be graced with the presence of great audiences. It was nice to see people (including some friends and family) turn up to watch the films, and then come out feeling inspired, contented, moved or even with a changed perspective. It was even nicer to see the same people return the next day for some more, in amongst new faces who were to be inspired in the same way.

I enjoyed working with those who helped to make the festival work. Eirene, the festival director, whose super idea it was to do such a thing, devoted all her effort and enthusiasm to creating this special event. It was always nice to meet up with her along with the rest of the team, including Sanni, Rebecca, and Alex – a pleasure to work with them every week to sort things out as we got on well together, and were able to use our different interests and expertise to contribute to the festival in different ways. Our team expanded when we got help from Paul and the team from Kiltr, who showed dedication to the project and even put on an after party. Joined by some of Eirene’s good friends, it meant that we had an all-round great bunch of people there for the festival.

The final aspect of the Havana Glasgow Film Festival which is significant to me is the experience I have gained. Helping to organise this event provided me with valuable experience in the organisation and marketing of events. It was good to see the progression of the preparation, from folding programmes, to going round places to drop off programmes, to making the events on the programmes come to life! What’s more, each week was always varied, with a phone interview one day, for example, and chalk-writing another day. It offered me an insight into the running of a film festival, everything that is involved, including press releases, sorting out venues and selling tickets.

I also got to write blog articles on different subjects, including the films, and put my language skills to use by translating some phrases from Glaswegian to Cuban Spanish. As a language graduate, I really appreciated this, and the other moments where I could practise Spanish, such as when replying to e-mails, watching the films and listening to the speakers and interpreters.

Although it didn’t come without its hiccups, the Havana Glasgow Film Festival was a success in its first year, and any challenges that were met with were overcome, and outshone by the enjoyable atmosphere that filled our cinema halls and venues. I am grateful to have been part of this unique celebration of the twin cities, and I expect great things for the festival in the future.

Thankyou and ¡gracias! to everyone who showed support to the festival.