A hard cell

Then, in early February, Perez disappeared from public view. Trips to present his film in Portland, Oregon, and here at the Miami Film Festival suddenly were scratched, and the interviews New Yorker Films was hoping would prime the American market were cancelled. Perez himself refused any foreign contact, sending only cryptic notes through third parties. The official word was that he was tending to a sick family member, but a source in Havana cited more sinister reasons for the director's lowered profile: Once again the political winds had shifted, with government officials now deciding Life Is to Whistle was an embarrassment to the regime.

Such flip-flops are hardly rare. Alea's Strawberry and Chocolate may for the moment be viewed as a classic, but it was harshly condemned by several government figures while in production. Pepe Horta, ex-Havana Film Festival head and currently the Café Nostalgia maestro, asserted his championing of Strawberry was a major factor in the state harassment that eventually led him to move to Miami. Upon the film's actual release, however, it was widely lauded throughout Cuba. Then, during a televised eight-hour marathon speech in March 1998, Castro lambasted the ICAIC's head, Alfredo Guevara, for ever allowing such an insidiously "counterrevolutionary" film to be made. Yet only a year later, during an interview with New Times, Cuban Minister of Culture Abel Prieto would hold Strawberry aloft as proof the system there could not only tolerate, but celebrate self-criticism. Even in death it seems, Cuba's filmmakers are still being forced to zigzag right, then left again.

The decision of Miami-Dade officials to cite the county's trade embargo against Cuba and pull $50,000 in funding from the Miami Film Festival if it showed Life Is to Whistle is simply the latest dance step in this comical cycle. Local television news broadcasters dutifully played their part, breathlessly predicting throngs of Cuban exiles picketing the Gusman. On the night in question, however, not a single protester turned up for the sold-out screening. Perhaps el exilio sensed the irony in decrying a work now coming under fire for its suspect politics back in Havana, or perhaps, as one on-site policeman suggested to Kulchur, they were otherwise preoccupied over on South Beach, attending Ocean Drive's model-clogged Volleypalooza shindig.

"I will try to suggest and intrigue, rather than give answers," says Fernando Perez
"I will try to suggest and intrigue, rather than give answers," says Fernando Perez

In fact the only altercation of that entire evening occurred during the subsequent screening that night of the Danish film Mifune. As the picture unspooled, one woman chose to ignore the directive to turn off all cell phones. Instead she answered a call and began blithely chatting away. No doubt inspired by the day's earlier milieu of Cubanismo, a gentleman sitting nearby made a grab for the woman's phone, evidently intending his own guerrilla action. What followed was a flurry of blows between the two: she wielding her phone and a mean open-palmed left hook, he utilizing what one onlooker described as a tub of popcorn. During the screams, calls for the police, and general pandemonium that followed, it was hard not to wonder if Miami wasn't witnessing the opening salvo of an altogether new moral struggle.

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett.sokol@miaminewtimes.com

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