By Lisa Kleinman
Fifteen years ago, Eliecer Jimenéz Almeida was captivated by the story of a Cuban gay writer who was trapped by Cuban state security in a public bathroom with another man. “At that time, homosexuality was criminalized in Cuba and associated with national security issues,” Jimenéz Almeida said. This story was the driving force behind his decision to create his latest film, “Havana Stories,” which will have its world premiere at the 40th Annual Miami Film Festival.
It's not the first time a bathroom played a prominent role in a film by Jimenéz Almeida. His first short film, made in 2008 while he was a student at the University of Camagüey, is an irreverent look at the university’s bathrooms. It got him expelled when he attempted to show it at a local film festival.
Jiménez Almeida, now a Ph.D. student in the Department of Modern Languages in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, was invited to compete for the annual Knight Made in MIA Feature Film Award. His previous feature film, “Veritas,” received the Documentary Achievement Award in last year´s festival.
Although Jiménez Ameida is often described as an experimental filmmaker, his work is accessible and engaging. “Havana Stories” combines elements of documentary and fiction, telling the story of the gay writer and his network of friends, lovers, acquaintances and enemies through a series of interviews filmed in Florida and Cuba. “While the characters in the film are loosely based on real people,” he said, “all have been renamed and modified for the purposes of the narrative.”
“Havana Stories” uses humor to tell a story with a serious message. “The film is an homage to the Mariel generation,” Jiménez Almeida said. “Almost all my work has to do with denying Castroism. In making ‘Havana Stories,’ my intention was to create a reminder of the degradation that was experienced by the Cuban people when the utopian promises of the revolution gave way to despair and dystopianism. I hope that through this film I can contribute to a larger conversation about the long-lasting impact of Castroism on Cuban society.”
Jiménez Almeida grew up in the countryside outside of Camagüey, Cuba’s third largest city. “I grew up listening to the propaganda of the system and to my father, the two speeches in parallel,” he said. His father, a farmer, was fiercely anti-Castro. Jiménez Almeida’s own rebellious streak emerged when he made “Toilet-ando sin ganas,” the film that got him expelled.
Two years later, after filing an appeal with the Ministry of Higher Education, he was allowed to graduate in 2013 with a thesis on the Cuban documentary. By then he had made two more films, including “Usufructo” (2011), a short film about his father, which won a prize consisting of a scholarship to study documentary film at the International Film and Television School in Cuba.
Since 2014, Jiménez Almeida has lived in Miami, where he has worked as a producer for the Hispanic television network Univisión and as a teacher. A prominent member of the Cuban filmmaking diaspora, he has been a visiting filmmaker at FIU, Yale University, Columbia University, New York University, City University of New York, Rutgers and Georgia Tech. His films have been shown in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, China, India, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, El Salvador and Guatemala. Jiménez Almeida’s work has received multiple awards in Cuba, the United States,and abroad. In 2018, New York’s Museum of Modern Art included his film “Persona” (2014) in its film series “A Brief History of Censorship in Cuba.”
Jiménez Almeida received a master's degree in Spanish journalism from FIU in 2022. He serves as co-director of the Cuban Diaspora Film Archive, a research, teaching and learning project located within the Department of Modern Languages at FIU.
“Havana Stories” will be screened at 2:45 p.m. on March 12 at the Miami Film Festival.