Interview of Ian Padrón , director of the Cuban film Habanastation
Habanastation, Ian Padrón’s opera prima, is the feature film selected to represent Cuba at The Oscars 2012. The film premiered on the Island last summer and in just a few days became the biggest box-office hit of the year. No doubt Ian succeeded in using effectively the film resources of adventure films and to enrich them with an air of comedy and a melodramatic nuance or two. The film, starring two teenage actors from La Colmenita theater company, utilizes a simple, linear language, freshly seductive, to tell a story full of morals and entertaining adventures.
The two characters represent very different Havanas. Carlos, son of a famous musician and an overprotective mother, and Mayito, whose mother died and whose father is in prison for homicide, forge a friendship that leads them to transform the visions of the world that they held until that moment. Those diverse realities that coexist in real life and coincide in the film are turned into a moving story. Ian achieves this thanks to an excellent cast and the way he uses cinematographic resources.
The success of the Cuban premier of Habanastation coincided with its showing at the Traverse City, Michigan, Film Festival. Can you comment on how the American audience received your film?
The public that attended the Festival and later the showing in Miami was very receptive to the film and to its cultural and social connotations. They laughed, they cried and they applauded. It was truly unforgettable and I believe that it influenced the decision to submit it as the Cuban nomination to the 2012 Academy Awards (Oscars). I believe that this film is cherished by many Cubans, both those living on the Island as well as those living abroad.
Habanastation took 10 years to make. How did this decade of waiting influence the final result of your film?
It took 10 years from the time I wrote the story line to the premier, but I think the result was better than if I would have filmed it then. La Colmenita has reached maturity as a theater group and I have a lot more experience as a director. Moreover, the addition of screenwriter Felipe Espinet to the staff made a great difference.
In your previous filmmaking you have always worked the screenplay; in fact, you have said that what you most enjoy about a film is the story it tells …
I believe that a film is 50 percent screenplay. I began to study film because I wanted to be a screenwriter. With Felipe Espinet we made a good duo and worked over the text until it was close to what is today Habanastation. We had as consultants Fernando Pérez and mi father Juan Padrón and that also was very propitious for the film.
Directing children is always a challenge, yet you said that it was very easy for you thanks to the work that La Colmenita has done with them. ¿What does it mean for Cuban cinema to have such a company of actors?
Without La Colmenita this story would have been almost impossible to tell. Tin Cremata and his group have created a space where filmmakers can work with children and adolescents that are unafraid to face an artistic challenge. This was something unthinkable a few years ago in Cuba. The protagonists, Andy Fornaris and Ernesto Escalona, come from there. Also Claudia Alvariño, who interprets the teacher and makes her big screen debut with our film.
You have an established career as director of documentaries and video clips. How did these two genres influence your opera prima?
We are a very tight work team because we have done 20 videos together in the last few years. They all know me and which way I am going. Directing Habanastation along with this team that we have been able to consolidate was a great help to me.
Can you give us a preview of the projects that you are working on at the moment?
I am finishing together with my father Juan Padrón an animated video clip of the Cuban singer Elaine de Valero and preparing another for the singer Cecilia Noel, who is known in Cuba for the great concerts she gave on the Island in the 1990s. I am also working on a new clip for Kola Loka and a concert by Paulo FG for his 20 years as a performer.
It is practically impossible to speak with Ian Padrón and not ask him about how he represents the essence of Cuba in his films. I cannot detach myself from the idea that my interviewee is one of the closest witnesses to the development of Elpidio Valdés, one of the characters that today constitutes a symbol of what is Cuban.
I have never thought about that much. I don’t have the background or the philosophical depth to capture consciously what many call “la cubanía”. I think that I am attentive to the signals of my time and my country. I try to follow that phrase of José Martí, “the homeland is an altar, not a pedestal”