Venice Film Festival 2019 winners: the good, the bad and the regional

There has been a mixed response to the Venice Film Festival's official awards, announced on Saturday, September 7. Joker, a daring take on the comic book villain starring Joaquin Phoenix, won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival with Roman Polanski controversially taking second prize with his film An Officer and a Spy.

It is the first superhero film ever to get this kind of arthouse kudos, and could now be on its way to Oscar glory. The last two Venice Golden Lion winners, Roma and The Shape of Water, have gone on to lift the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker', the film took home the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion award. Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures
Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker', the film took home the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion award. Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures

US director Todd Phillips, best known (up to now) for the slapstick comedy Very Bad Trip, paid tribute to Phoenix's intense performance, saying he was "the fiercest, bravest and most open-minded lion that I know".

"Thank you for trusting me with your insane talents," he said.

The movie, which The Guardian had described as "one of the boldest Hollywood productions for some time", has already sparked a heated debate.

Within hours of the Joker premiere, some warned that Phoenix's full-throttle portrait of a needy, embittered clown who lives with his mother could empower incels (or involuntary celibates), the angry, misogynist young men who have been blamed for so much far-right and white supremacist violence.

Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson worried that it was "exhilarating in the most prurient of ways, a snuff film about the death of order, about the rot of a governing ethos".

He feared that it "may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologises".

But most critics disagreed, with Variety's Owen Gleiberman saying Phoenix has remade Batman's arch-enemy as a "method psycho, a troublemaker so intense in his cuckoo hostility that even as you're gawking at his violence, you still feel his pain".

Polanski's controversial win

But almost as many headlines are likely to be made by Polanski's win. There were audible gasps when the French-Polish director, a pariah in Hollywood after his rape conviction, was handed the Grand Prix second prize for his Dreyfus Affair drama, An Officer and a Spy.

Having spent most of his life as a fugitive from American justice, Polanski was accused of drawing "obscene" parallels between himself and the persecuted French-Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus, who was the victim of anti-semitism and a miscarriage of justice around the turn of the 20th century.

Polanski, 86, has been shunned by the big studios for decades after he was convicted of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.

His inclusion in the main Venice competition, which included only two female directors, sparked fury.

The 76th Venice Film Festival - Awards Ceremony - Venice, Italy, September 7, 2019 - Emmanuelle Seigner poses with the Silver Lion award - Grand Jury Prize. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
French actress Emmanuelle Seigner poses with the Silver Lion award on behalf of her husband, Roman Polanski, at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. Reuters

The French-Polish filmmaker did not show up at the festival, leaving his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, who also appears in the film, to pick up his prize to muted applause and a few isolated boos.

She later told reporters that her husband was "very happy" with his win, saying the "film was very important to him".

The head of the Venice jury, Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, had boycotted a gala dinner for Polanski, only to be forced to clarify that she was not prejudiced against his film.

Regional success at Venice Film Festival

Although Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour's The Perfect Candidate did not walk away with a Golden Lion, it was a successful year for regional filmmakers and actors at the festival.

French Tunisian actor Sami Bouajila holds the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor he received for the film "Un Fils" (Bik Eneich, A Son) during the awards ceremony of the 76th Venice Film Festival on September 7, 2019 at Venice Lido. / AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI
Tunisian actor Sami Bouajila holds the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor for his role in 'A Son' at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. AFP

Tunisian actor, Sami Bouajila, won the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor for his role in A Son. The Orizzonti Jury is a second jury at the film festival, which is run as a parallel to the competition for the Golden Lion. This year's jury was chaired by Susanna Nicchiarelli and comprised of Eva Sangiorgi, Alvaro Brechner, Mark Adams, and Rachid Bouchareb.

Away from the official festival prizes, there are also awards handed out at the Venice Critics’ Week.

Lebanese filmmaker Ahmad Ghossein's All This Victory won three critics' awards, one from the jury, another from the public and a final one for its technical contribution.

Scale director Shahad Ameen. Image Nation Abu Dhabi 
'Scale' director Shahad Ameen on set. Image Nation Abu Dhabi

Second place, the Verona Film Club Award, went to Scales by Saudi Arabian director Shahad Ameen. Ameen's feminist fable tells the story of a young woman, Hayat, through modern interpretations of Arabic folklore.

According to Variety, "The Verona prize goes to the film deemed the most innovative in the section by a jury of young film buffs who belong to one of Italy’s oldest arthouse cinema organisations."

A political year at the Italian film festival

In a year fraught with controversy over sexual politics, festival director Alberto Barbera was also accused of being "tone deaf" for his inclusion of a Black Lives Matter drama by the American Nate Parker, who was embroiled in a rape trail while at university, as well as the director's cut of Gasper Noe's 2002 rape shocker Irreversible.

Politics also dominated the awards ceremony with the best actor and actress winners, Italy's Luca Marinelli (Martin Eden) and France's Ariane Ascaride (Gloria Mundi) dedicating their awards to the migrants who "rest forever at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea".

Both films contained references to people fleeing poverty and persecution.

(FromL) Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, British musician, singer and actor Mick Jagger and Canadian actor Donald Sutherland arrive by taxi boat at the pier of the Palazzo del Casino to attend a photocall for the film "The Burnt Orange Heresy" presented out of competition on September 7, 2019 during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido. / AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI
'The Burnt Orange Heresy' cast members, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland arrive for a photocall during the 2019 Venice Film Festival. AFP

Donald Sutherland, the star of the festival's closing film, The Burnt Orange Heresy, had earlier appealed to reporters to support the migrants' cause.

His co-star, Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, made a rare foray into politics to attack US President Donald Trump for his rudeness, lies and tearing up environmental controls in the US.

He also bewailed "the polarisation and incivility in public life" in his native Britain, pointing the finger at its rookie prime minister Boris Johnson.

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IN PHOTOS: El Morro of Santiago de Cuba

 

On a rocky and steep crag exactly at the entrance of the bay of Santiago de Cuba, sits the military fortress San Pedro de la Roca or El Morro Castle.

Its walls and stone steps, the ancient dungeons where some of our most distinguished patriots suffered prison, the cannons and balustrades... keep a history of four centuries old. First colonial defensive ring of the city lived more or less outstanding moments like the naval battle of Santiago de Cuba, during the Hispanic-Cuban-American war in 1898.  

It offers spectacular views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. For those daredevils a special challenge awaits them: to walk down its dozens of steps until reaching the first level very close to the sea. The climb up is troublesome, but the winning sensation when reaching the top is indescribable.

Since year 2001 every day at dusk is carried out a ceremony of shooting an old cannon, in tribute to the Cuban liberators who were kept in jail there.  

 

Thanks to its architectural and historical values it was declared National Monument in 1979 and since 1997 it has been acknowledged as Cultural Patrimony of Humanity.  

Today El Morro still welcomes from its majestic height the foreign and locals, in one of the most attractive summer proposals in the most Caribbean city of Cuba.

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Cuba marks 100th birthday of legendary singer Benny More

Cuba, in particular its southern province of Cienfuegos, is celebrating the 100th birthday of the island’s most famous composer and singer of popular music, Benny More.

Born in 1919, in Santa Isabel de las Lajas, a town in Cienfuegos, about 250 km southeast of Havana, More is remembered every Aug. 24 in his hometown, and his centenary celebrations are now seen across the whole island.

As every year, people in Santa Isabel de las Lajas marched from the main square to the grave of the artist, now a national monument. Families, friends, artists and music fans laid flowers and sang his songs along the way to the monument.

A cultural gala “Waiting for the Centenary” was held Friday evening at the Benny More Cultural Art Center in Cienfuegos, where several acknowledged music bands from the island performed.

For the people of Cienfuegos, More is a symbol of Cuba’s musical excellence. A life-size bronze in central Cienfuegos Municipality, the capital city of the province, marks people’s reverence for the artist.

The statue has become a must-see attraction for visitors since its erection in 2004.

“Benny is the symbol of Cienfuegos, but he is a figure that goes beyond this province because he was a true musical genius who made the Cuban music known to the world,” Adelina Gonzalez, a teacher, told Xinhua.

Son of a single mother and grandson of African slaves, Bartolome Maximiliano More, his real name, was nourished by his ethnic African roots together with the Spanish music traditions.

As a child, he learned to play the guitar and sang at parties until he moved to Havana in 1940, where he spent years performing in cafes, streets and parks.

In 1945 he joined the famous Matamoros band and started an international career in Mexico that would take him in the next two decades to Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Jamaica, Haiti and the United States.

The peak of his career came with the creation of his own “The Giant Band,” which he called “The Tribu.” It debuted in the Cuban capital on Aug. 3, 1953.

The musical genius did not stop working during his last days when he suffered from liver cirrhosis. He died of the disease at the age of 43 on Feb. 16, 1963.

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What Maykel Blanco and his Salsa Mayor has that makes you move

Maykel Blanco, director of the Salsa Mayor Cuban group, has been promoting these days in Miami his new album Qué tiene que te mueve, mixed and mastered in this city.

Blanco spoke with OnCuba about his most recent production in 2019, when his group is turning 15.

With more than a hundred songs written in his musical career, Blanco also pays close attention to the musical arrangements and every detail of the themes that make up his records.

With his timba and salsa rhythm, he has toured 99 countries and says that he would only “have Australia left to give a concert.”

The collaboration and cultural exchange between Cuba and the United States “is important for artists and their audience,” says Blanco, who has already made three musical tours of the North American country.

“The public here knows about our music. In Miami I feel at home, we have many things in common, we speak the same language, we like the same food,” he said.

“Being such a cosmopolitan city, with people from so many countries and cultures, we have gotten feedback and it has helped us a lot for our music. It’s a very nice thing,” Blanco explained.

Qué tiene que te mueve is Maykel Blanco and his Salsa Mayor’s eighth album, produced by the Mexican label MB Records.

In the coming months, Blanco will produce another album that includes genres less associated with his artistic figure, such as ballads and pop.

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Cojimar: Full of Stories (+ Photos)

Journalist and photographer Ernesto Lahens Soto exhibits a selection of his photos at the Art Gallery Mariano Rodriguez, in Villa Panamericana, Havana.

Ernesto Lahens Soto does not portray a stylized Cojimar, an unknown village and idyllic construction: what we see is everything we are able to witness on daily basis if we decide to look for stories.

And this is not a common skill. Or perhaps we all have it. The truth is that there are stories everywhere and Cojimar treasures some of the most interesting of the island.

Without fanfare, emphasis, and quite naturally, the photographer shows us those close, but unimaginable approaches.

There are inspiring series, which need no words to complement them.

The exhibition is documentary. But you can feel the fine lyricism: when a fisherman throws his line into the sea, there is poetry in there; sometimes hard, sometimes violently…usually unnoticed.

Ernesto has the gift to reproduce it.

Clearly, the photographer loves this village. He feels identified with the men and women living there. The character of a city is not determined by its magnificent view, but its people.

Cojimar treasures a lot of secrets. It is not hard to find them out. Suffice to ask our neighbor.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz/CubaSi Translation Staff


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Hip hop festival in Cuba reaches its 8th edition

The Urban Potaje Festival, which highlights the values ​​of hip hop culture in the Cuban music scene, will hold its 8th edition from August 13 to 18 in Colón, Matanzas.

On this occasion, the event that takes place in the west of the island will be attended by about 160 national and international artists.

Among the figures that have confirmed their participation are Cuban rappers El Individuo, Karnal, Ciudadano, Company Yo, Doble Negra, Claras, Malcolm Beybe, as well as the DJs: Dj Lino, Dj Hanzel and Dj C4.

Meanwhile, the French Dj Keshkoo and Mc Rotka, and MC Nam, from Mexico, will be arriving, so that in this edition the presence of exponents from different regions of the island and from several parts of the world stands out.

Along with music, graffiti, dance and spoken poetry―distinctive elements of hip hop― will also be represented in Urban Potaje, with Cuban projects such as Graffiti Colón y Arte, Undergraff y Adier Martell, Undergraff from Holguín, as well as Rompiendo el Paso and B Boy es Vida.

The most intense days of the program will be on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18. The competitions of doubles with the best active freestyle on the Island will take place on Saturday, while as a climax, Sunday night in Colón’s Plaza Roja, for the first time in Cuba the National Master Battle Title (BDM GOLD CUBA) will be vied for.

The winner will represent Cuba in Peru in the International Tournament, which will be held in November BDM Deluxe.

The 16 Gold Masters who won their place in the finals, having won in the regional elimination rounds, which have taken place throughout the island after the 7th edition of Urban Potaje, will participate in the BDM GOLD CUBA.

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Cuban musicians release album featuring traditional Chinese songs

Acclaimed Cuban a cappella musical group Vocal Sampling released their latest album "Bu Bu Gao" in Beijing Friday.

The album features a number of traditional Chinese songs adapted for a cappella performance, accompanied by several traditional Cuban music pieces.

The group also announced their plan for a tour in south China's Guangdong Province from Aug. 7 to 9.

This was the first album released by the time-honored vocal group in China, as part of a Chinese music project aiming to revitalize the country's traditional music.

The project, jointly initiated by China Record Group and 13 Month Culture Communication, a Beijing-based art company, gathers musicians from across the country and abroad in a bid to revive the country's best traditional music pieces.

So far, the project has finished the recording of 20 music albums and hosted more than 50 live performances.

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Cuba: International Festival Honors Juan Formell

A program focused on paying tribute to Cuban musician Juan Formell will mark on Friday the beginning of the 1st International Timba Festival ”Forever Formell,” to be held in Havana until August 4.

The organizers of the event chose this date coinciding with the birthday of Juan Formell, founder and director of the legendary Los Van Van orchestra, popularly known as ‘The Train of Cuban Music.’

After a greeting to the participants by Samuel Formell, current director of Los Van Van, the photographic exhibition ‘Por siempre Formell’ (Forever Formell), by artist Ivan Soca, will open the festival at 10:00 local time at El Sauce Cultural Center.

Another of the activities taking place today is the panel of the same name, in which the children of the renowned musician and founders of Los Van Van will talk about the artistic work of the bassist, composer and arranger, and the different stages of the orchestra that won a Latin Grammy award in 2000 with its album ‘Llego Van Van’ (Van Van Has Arrived.

Next, musicologist Nerys Gonzalez will give a keynote speech on the work of Formell, who died in 2014, his impact on the music of the island and other countries and his influence on the way other orchestras play music.

According to the program, the documentary ‘Legado’ (Legacy), by filmmakers NathanaÃ’l Mergui and Patricia Ayala, will also be screened at El Sauce Cultural Center at 14:00, local time.

The first day of the event concludes at La Tropical’s Salon Rosado Benny More with a concert by Los Van Van orchestra and guest musicians starting 9:00 p.m., local time, until midnight.

The 1st International Timba Festival… ‘Forever Formell’ is sponsored by the Cuban Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Institute of Music, along with other entities of the Culture System in this country.

Orchestras such as Issac Delgado, Pupy y los que Son Son, NG La Banda, Alexander Abreu y Havana D´ Primera, Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son, El Noro and Primera Clase, El Niño y la Verdad, as well as La Colmenita Children’s Theater Company will participate in the festival.

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