Love, ‘Life’ get Havana fest champ to change direction

Meeting of minds more than professional

HAVANA — The next major project from Cuban helmer Fernando Perez is a true labor of love. Writer Anna Assenza had been searching fruitlessly for a director in her native Italy to adapt her autobiographical novel.

Then, in Havana for the city’s 1998 film fest, she was bowled over by the magical realism of Perez’s “La Vida Es Silbar” (Life Is to Whistle). She wasn’t alone as “La Vida” won the fest’s best pic kudo that year, and went on to international acclaim at Sundance and other fests.

Assenza was convinced that Perez could share her vision. She contacted him and the director said he was moved by the story of her life in a traditional Silician village.

“After ‘La Vida Es Silbar,’ I thought I would direct a more classic narrative film,” admits Perez, noting the novel is not traditionally structured.

Their meeting of the minds was more than professional: Assenza decamped from Italy to share Perez’s Havana Centro apartment.

In other projects, Perez traveled to Sicily last year to scout locations and begin preliminary casting of the Italian-lingo pic “An Endless Smile.” The story spans the life of the main character from childhood to 25, and the cast numbers over 100, almost all Italian unknowns.

Lensing on the roughly $1.5 million Franco-Italo-Spanish co-production (producers include Jose Maria Morales of Spain) is skedded for April and May.

Perez has also turned to “La Vida” for additional inspiration. Last June, he reassembled his cast, ripped off the original script and lensed the parody, “La Vida Es Gozar” (Life Is to Enjoy).

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