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Fidel Castro’s lingering illness may cast a slight pall over Havana’s 28th Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

Given that the Cuban dictator was a no-show at the recent military parade celebrating his 80th birthday, fest organizers aren’t expecting his presence this time around.

Perhaps no other film fest in the Latin American and Caribbean region has as much drawing power as Havana’s, where nearly 500 films and videos will unspool between Dec 5 and 15.

Fest lures an annual average 500,000 film buffs, many of whom plan their holidays around it.

This is the one time in the year when hundreds of international films are screened in the city and locals come in droves.

This year kicked off with Mexico’s Foreign Language Oscar contender “Pan’s Labyrinth” by Guillermo del Toro and will close with Pedro Almodovar’s equally promising “Volver,” Spain’s Foreign Language Oscar pick.

Fest is introducing a sidebar for experimental films to complement its competitive section and various other sidebars.

Spanish film vet Manuel Perez Estremera receives the Coral de Honor lifetime achievement award this year.

Fest will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cuba’s San Antonio de los Banos Intl. School of Film and Television, founded by Nobel prizewinner Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Dec. 15, 1986.

Notable pics in competition include Mexico’s “El Violin”  by tyro helmer Francisco Vargas, “Drama/Mex” by Gerardo Naranjo and Julian Hernandez’s “El cielo dividido.”

Argentina is repped by Daniel Burman’s “Family Law,” Israel Adrian Caetano’s “Cronica de una fuga” and Pablo Trapero’s “Nacido y criado.”

Brazil’s Tata Amaral brings his musical “Antonia,” Caca Diegues his “O maior amor do mundo” and Ricardo Elias’ “Os 12 Trabalhos.”

Cuban pics in competish include Pavel Giroud’s “La edad de la peseta,” Manuel Perez’ “Paginas del diario de Mauricio” and Alejandro Gil’s “La pared.”