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The Cuban comes to Oakville for red carpet premiere

The Cuban premiere
The Cuban comes to Oakville for red carpet premiere
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the Oakville News publishing assistant and arts reporter. He started with the news in 2016 and now specializes in current and live events, film, theatre and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB and has lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Proud Sheridan grad of Journalism and Performing Arts. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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When The Cuban opened a double bill on the 5 Drive-In’s screen 1 last night, it made for a rare and exciting event. OFFA (Oakville Festivals of Film and Art) and A 71 Entertainment co-hosted a red carpet premiere for a high-profile new release movie in Oakville. And hopefully there will be more events and screenings like this to come.

The event was co-hosted by OFFA and the A 71 Entertainment at Oakville’s 5 Drive-In. The sold-out show screened last night at the drive-in’s largest screen with an estimated audience of nearly 500 people in 215 cars.

A Canadian production filmed both in Brantford, ON and Havana, Cuba, The Cuban premiered earlier this year but is finally seeing its wide release. Part of the idea behind the drive-in premiere was to create a high-profile event that was still socially distant to reflect the new normal of living with COVID-19.

The film is about an Afghan pre-med student named Mina (Ana Golja) who begins working part-time at a long-term care facility. She’s assigned to assist Luis Garcia (Oscar winner Lous Gossett Jr.), a man with Alzheimer’s and dementia. But once upon a time, he was a cuban musician. And when Mina plays his music, Luis’ memories and cognition begin to come back.

Last night’s show is the first event following June’s OFFA Online Film Festival. OFFA Chair Wendy Donnan was on the red carpet to welcome the audience back to an in-person show. “We just had a digital screening,” she says. “It’s so great to have an in person showing – masks and all.”

The Cuban‘s cast and crew on the Red Carpet

Prominent talent from the film was in attendance at last night’s event. Notable guests include the film’s director Sergio Navarretta, writer Alessandra Piccione and star Ana Golja.

The cast and crew of The Cuban on the red carpet

Director Navarretta knows that nobody could predict most screenings of his movie would be at drive-ins while shooting.

“It’s surreal considering we’re in the midst of a unprecedented global pandemic,” says Navarretta. “So anytime you’re able to  partake in some kind of a communal experience, and share a movie that you’ve been so close to for over three years and been intimately a part of, it’s a thrill. And it’s a real honour and pleasure.”

Navarretta knew he wanted Ana Golja as his main character Mina since she pitched him the idea. “I said you know we should find something to work together we expressed an interest in working with one another.”

But the movie finally took shape after hearing of a dream a grandfather and his memories. “That dream sort of lead to a short film idea, Navarretta continues. “It was a seed of an idea that eventually evolved into the feature film called The Cuban.”

The whole family was there

Navarretta and writer Piccione are real life husband and wife, and she agrees watching the movie at the drive-in makes for a very different experience.

Writer Alessandra Piccione, Director Sergio Navarretta and their son Luca

“It’s so much bigger than it would normally be, so that to me is pretty exciting,” says Piccione. “I feel like the audience is going to get to really experience the music and the colours of the imagery on such a big scale, which kind of makes up for the fact that we’re not all in one room together laughing at the same time.”

“But I feel like this can really still feels like a communal experience and it still feels really immersive. So I think it really is the best of both worlds considering the times we are living in.”

There was also one special experience Piccione couldn’t expect – as the credits rolled when the film was done, the audience didn’t applaud. Instead, more than 200 cars were honking their horns as their congratulations for the movie they’d seen.

That’s a pretty special way to end a movie premiere.

What makes The Cuban special

Like most creative projects, it took a team of collaborators to fine-tune the finished product seen on screen. Star Ana Golja was one of those instrumental people on both sides of the camera.

“Oh, the process of development was one that took a lot longer than I found usually would take,” says Golja. “It’s been a long journey but it’s incredibly fulfilling.”

“What makes Cuban special I think is is how truthful the film is. We really did everything we could to make it as honest and accurate as possible, especially to those in the various cultural groups the film address.”

Golja explains that cultural outreach goes much further than Cuban music, and it even goes beyond geographic cultures too. “It’s not just the Cuban culture and the Afghan culture, but also the experience of living with Alzheimer’s and caring for somebody with Alzheimer’s. That’s definitely what what makes this film different.”

So what does Golja hope people experience watching the movie? “And I hope people walk away from this film wanting to spend more time with their grandparents, and wanting to give them more love and being more patient with them and more kind and wanting to listen to their stories.”

Navarretta says that depiction of memory and disease is one of his favourites, too. “One of the most special scenes in the movie really is when Luis comes to life for the first time. Seeing the real life moment and then to see it on screen is a very special moment and a real turning point.”

Other special guests at The Cuban‘s premiere

Another special guest at last night’s show was Oakville MPP Stephen Crawford, who presented Navarretta with a certificate of recognition for his work on the film.

“The arts and culture are really critical to our society,” says Crawford. “Unfortunately they’ve been hit the hardest in this pandemic so whether it’s arts, culture, film – those industries were the first to shut down and, unfortunately, are the last to open up.”

Oakville MPP Stephen Crawford presenting director Navarretta with a certificate of recognition for his work on the movie

Crawford mentions too that Minister McCloud (Minister of Sports and Culture) is working on projects to promote artists. A new website called “Ontario Live” hosting online performances will be launching soon. In addition, a report about the business of entertainment and support for the industry is being prepared for Parliament this fall.

Also in attendance was Navarretta and Piccione’s son Luca, by far the most enthusiastic audience member. When asked about seeing his parent’s film, he said “”It’s really cool. I mean, it’s a massive TV that is showing a movie. What more can you want?”

Luca is right – the sheer size of the drive-in screen is a marvel. Even though the sound is restricted to car stereos, Golja says there’s something appropriate about the drive-in to tell this story.

“When you’re in a movie theatre you have that incredible surround sound,” says Golja. “With the drive-in that’s obviously not quite the case, but it’s still a very cool and interesting viewing experience. In the film we have flashbacks to 1950s Havana, and obviously with a drive-in release it feels like a really great fit. It feels like a part of the experience.”

The show was a great success

One final surprise before the movie started was a pre-recorded message for the Oakville audience by Gossett Jr. himself. He wasn’t in attendance for the Oakville show, but talked about making the film and hoped we enjoyed the screening.

Academy Award winner and film star Louis Gossett Jr. in a pre-recorded message prior to the film premiere at Oakville’s 5 Drive-In

The second film in Tuesday’s double bill was 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger. The film co-starred Gossett Jr. in his Oscar-winning role as Srgt. Emil Foley (Gere’s character’s diabolical training officer.)

The Cuban continues screening at drive-in theatres across Ontario this summer. Limited engagements begin at indoor theatres and in the United States this Friday, July 31, 2020.

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