Pavel Giroud’s The Companion screens on Saturday, October 14 at 2:30pm.
Pavel Giroud’s The Companion screens on Saturday, October 14 at 2:30pm.

Spotlight: riverrun Global Film Festival

by / Oct. 10, 2017 8pm EST

 Spotlight: riverrun Global Film Festival

This weekend at the Burchfield Penney, an extensive (and free) program of cinema from around the planet

After a successful inaugural 2016 focusing on Iranian Cinema, the riverrun Global Film Festival is back and better than ever—offering free admission this year and an expanded cultural vision for 2017 with music, poetry, and Cuban-inspired food offered by the Burchfield Penney Café.  

Held at the Burchfield Penney Art Center from October 12-14, the film series is curated by Dr. Tanya Shilina-Conte, UB Assistant Professor of Film Studies. The series is produced by riverrun (Patrick Martin, president) with support from the Burchfield Penney, the UB Department of English, the Department’s Juxtapositions lecture series, and the James Agee Chair in American Culture, SUNY Distinguished Professor Bruce Jackson.

The festival kicks off on Thursday at 4 pm with the riverrun Fellows Public Presentations, introduced by Professor Damien Keane. The 2017 keynote speaker, Professor of Hispanic Studies and Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the College of William and Mary, Ann Marie Stock, follows at 6pm. Stock, a leading scholar of Latin American and Cuban Cinema, will present “Cameras in Cuba: Reflections on Revolutionary Cinema,” contextualizing Cuban Cinema throughout that country’s tumultuous history.

Stock will lead a discussion after the screening of the award-winning Memories of Underdevelopment (1968). Directed by Cuba’s most prized film director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, this film is essential viewing. It stands as the most iconic cinematic meditation on the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath, to date. The film was recently restored by the Martin Scorsese World Cinema Foundation. The screening of the film will start at 7:15 pm.

On Friday the “By Women, About Women” section opens at 4pm with the rarely screened short film Treasure Island (Isla del tesoro 1969) by Cuba’s first female director Sara Gómez. Trained as a musician and ethnographer, she made passionately original, aesthetically nuanced documentary and narrative films critiquing racism, misogyny, and injustice in Cuban society and government. It will be followed by Tania Libre (2017), a documentary about Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera by Lynn Hershman-Leeson (director of the Steve Kurtz documentary Strange Culture.)

This section will be followed by Happy Hour (part of the October M&T Bank Second Friday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center) at 5:30pm. Guests are invited to enjoy Wendell Rivera as he performs his Buena Vista Social Club collection and then take a stroll to view Alberto Rey’s film installations on “Cuban Immigration,” entitled Waters off of Caibarien (2004) and An Unkept Promise (2005). Jorge Guitart, UB professor of Spanish, and Cuban-born poet and educator Olga Karman will then give readings of Cuban poetry (7-7:45 pm).

I am Cuba (Soy Cuba, 1964) by Mikhail Kalatozov, scheduled for 8pm, closes out Friday night. This section will be dedicated to the memory of Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017), an internationally renowned poet who co-wrote this film. In the early 1990’s Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola led a campaign to restore Soy Cuba. This film is truly haunting, characterized by thrillingly grandiose cinematography and a subtle and poetic exploration of socio-political issues central to Cuban identity and culture.

On Saturday at 2pm The Project of the Century (2015) by Carlos Quintela will be screened in the section “Nuclear Narratives.” This is a film about an abandoned Cuban-USSR nuclear project which includes rare footage from the 1970s, as well as parts of Sara Gomez’s best-known film, One Way or Another/De Cierta Manera (1974). The Companion (2016) by Pavel Giroud, focusing on the treatment of HIV-positive patients in 1980s Cuba, will be presented during the “Cuba and the AIDS Crisis” section at 4:30pm.

The series concludes at 7pm with “Old Cuba/New Cuba,” a program of short films across several genres, from animation to drama to documentary, some of which have played this year at the Sundance Film Festival. This section will highlight the differences between the revolutionary and more globalized image of Cuba and will be dedicated to the memory of Julio Garcia Espinosa (1926-2016), one of the key figures of Cuban Cinema. It will include a film by Espinosa himself and the last interview taken with him, as well as films by Octavio Cortázar, Nicolás Guillén Landrián, Santiago Álvarez, and others.

Local film experts and community leaders will introduce films during the series. The lineup includes the SUNY Distinguished Professor Bruce Jackson (Buffalo Film Seminars); Dalia Antonia Muller, Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History and Associate Dean of undergraduate education at UB; Fredonia State College Professor of Visual Arts and New Media Alberto Rey, Canisius College Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages Literatures and Cultures Richard Reitsma; and Christopher Schobert, a film reviewer for the Buffalo News.

In Cuba, the phrase “The personal is political” is not a cliché. The State has a deeply intimate, constantly shifting relationship with even the most private aspects of its citizens’ lives. According to Shilina-Conte, “some of these films had to be brought from Cuba in travellers’ suitcases because of the embargo on shipments which are still in place between the US and Cuba. Dolores Calvino Espinosa from Cinemateca de Cuba, Julio Garcia Espinosa’s widow, was instrumental in helping us with obtaining these rare films.”

The 2017 riverrun Global Film Series: Cuban Cinema & Culture, has a special message for Western New York. In the words of curator Shilina-Conte, “In the present political climate of reduced funding and the general marginalization of the humanities, a special mission of the series this year is to stress the importance of culture in our lives and remind ourselves of our quintessential right to enjoy and engage in things that make us all humans. Added to that is the need to know more about our immediate and not so immediate neighbors, learn about their cultural practices and traditions, and see real human faces of people from other nations, not abstract crowds that dissolve in political rhetoric.”

For more information, please visit the riverrun Global Film Series website at or the Facebook page.