The Poet of Havana‘s world premiere at the Gasparilla International Film Festival was an incendiary, sold out, production. Yes, production. The theater quickly filled with a sea of filmmakers and film lovers high on the festival buzz. Ron Chatman, the director, was introduced and proceeded to introduce the film itself. The lights went down and the opening frame hit; a perfectly shot view of waves rolling into the shore. The music that accompanied it had a soulful feel that you didn’t even need to understand the story to appreciate the emotion.
Carlos Valera sings the music of the people, he was born in 1963. During Cuba’s rolling blackouts in the 70s he would go out on a terrace with some friends and play music for his family and neighbors until the power returned.Benecio Del Toro says Carlos plays music that is grounded in truth and passes a message that makes you think. The phrase that resonated with me the most from his songs was:
“there can only be freedom when nobody owns it”
The images were crisp and equally as beautiful as Varela’s powerful songs. The final shots of the film were of the Havana skyline in the distance past some water and the Carlos and his guitar sitting on a sea wall. It was beautiful because to me it emphasized the theme of change in the film. Not just Valera’s transformation as an artist but also the political and social change that his songs speak of.
After the film there was a question and answer session with both director and talent. Everyone was happy to have the film in Tampa and touched by his words of love and Varela’s obvious passion. Later in the evening at the Bacardi Party, Carlos performed live. It was a beautiful performance, I don’t understand Spanish but I recognized the songs from the film and was moved to hear them performed live. Carlos is quite the performer.