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Thursday 1 January 1970

A ground-breaking new film festival occurring in the beautiful colonial city of GIBARA, Cuba, where the island?s top filmmaker Humberto Solas? classical masterpiece ?LUCIA? was shot some 40 years ago, has symbolically crowned as top winners, the Iranian documentary ?SIYAMO? by Mahmoud Reza Sani and U.S. low-budget independent feature ?LAST BALL? by Peter Callahan.

This event, highlighting films made with little resources from over 23 countries raised praise from professionals attending for its top-level organisation in a country whose economy and policies are not exactly on an upward swing. But the audience was there and busloads carrying participants from most continents, after a 12-hour trek from Havana, joined in with local Gibarenos to salute this monumental call for encouragement to all nations to express their cinematic talents, unrestricted by heavy investment, now that the digital revolution is here.

Burdened with zero-advertising Cuban governmental limitations, the festival?s small team of organisers nevertheless managed to garner considerable help from organisations like SWISS EFFECTS, Eclair Laboratories and different entities which conceded prizes to a total tune of over $ 100 000. for the winning filmmakers, making it a one-of-a-kind opportunity for ?poor? digital and video filmmakers to showcase their works in this enchanting coastal fishing town with lush vegetation and an outstandingly compact Cuban population, distinctive both from the ethnic and architectural point of view.

Other pioneer supporters including yours sincerely, www.FILMFESTIVALS.COM , with Helen Dobrensky on the Fiction Jury, were : www.swisseffects.ch which provides in-house service using film-related technologies spanning traditional animation, video to film transfers, 2K printing and scanning through to digital special effects, based in Zurich and represented by Thomas Krempke, member of the Scripts Jury; with top prize going to young Ecuadorian Fernando Mieles Pena for a blow-up (worth over $ 40 000) of the execution of his screenplay ?Prometeo Deportado? Eclair Laboratories which granted the processing of 10 prints for the winner; and local sponsors, ICAIC, the Cuban National cinematographic organisation, Cuban Ministry of Culture, Cities of Holguin and Gibara, the top-notch Cuban San Antonio de Los Banos Film School as well as the French Embassy in Havana, repped by Cultural Attaché Xavier d?Arthuys, also on the Fiction Jury, which split the top Fiction Prize ($3000) in a tie between Brazilian short ?Vaga-Lume by Gilson Vargas and Peter Callahan?s ?Last Ball? (US): and L.A. Latino Film Festival whose Director, Marlene Dermer sat on the Documentaries Jury.

Local loop CNN and 7 members of the American Press Association flying in for the fest joined reports in Le Monde and other major publications.

Fest?s lineup included the best that the digital explosion has to offer, now that inexpensive digital film-making is within everyone?s reach and challenging the Hollywood moguls? supremacy. Indeed the festival has fulfilled a niche and is staged at the right time in the right place, small enough to allow filmmakers to mingle and locals in an isolated area with a huge appetite for alternative fare to sample some audacious screenings usually outside their reach of view.

A digital 27 minute documentary from Iran by Mahmoud Reza Sani, ?SIYAMO? which obtained the Cesare Zavattini Prize ($ 3000.) for Best Documentary at the event, for example, would have been impossible to make with a traditional film crew. The film features an Iranian searching for a black-haired girl he has seen in a dream, in post-Taleban Afghanistan. Shooting himself, with a tiny hidden digital PC-10, as the narrator drives through Kabul in a taxi and visits a weapons store and girls? school, the camera is so unobtrusive that nobody realised what was happening and allowed him to get his footage.

After the shoot, Sani went back to Tehran and edited the episodes himself on a computer.

Such vanguard filmmaking reflects the most profound and dynamic revolution in the capture and distribution of the moving image since the discovery of the cinema art form of the 20th century. Traditional means of delivering copies of finished films to cinemas around the world is at every stage, such a tremendously expensive process that it has created massive industrial conglomerates i.e. the Hollywood studios and led to the control of the international film industry by a small number of enormously powerful companies.

Through digital technology, poor filmakers such as Mahmoud, can not only control the process of their own creation, but also its means of distribution far away from the stranghold of the Hollywood industry. And this applies to digital guerillas in other Third World Countries as well as poorer filmmakers in richer countries like the U.S, by allowing individuals to shoot feature-length films and documentaries for just a few thousand dollars or less.

Examples are Thomas Vinterberg?s ?Celebration?, shot on a Sony digital camera at very low cost and Wim Wender?s ?Buena Vista Social Club?, mostly shot on cheap digital equipment. And with the advent of digital theatres, using digital projection equipment, the showing of the finished movie is also undergoing transformation, with little discernable difference in picture quality, if not some jumpy hand-held sequences which are part of the aesthetics. Analysts foresee a substantial number of cinemas in the US and worldwide switching to digital means of screening within a few years..

These precursor low-budget filmakers, whose products were highlighted at the 1st Cinema del Pobre Film Festival at Gibara, demonstrated the liberating effect of being able to write, direct, edit and control the distribution of their films., eliminating an enormous amount of wastage and bureaucracy. The festival in this direction, has showcased on a whole new world and established itself as an original and worldclass venue for low-budget filmakers in search of a practical means of recognition for their works.

Helen Dobrensky,


Manager International Press Relations

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