Two stage sisters living in an era of revolution
Four opera trips crossing the ocean of time
Havana Divas 古巴花旦
Dir. S. Louisa Wei 魏时煜 / Hong Kong / 2019 / 96min
Language: Cantonese, Spanish, English
Subtitles: Chinese & English
The story focuses on Caridad and Georgina, who had learned the art of Cantonese Opera in 1930s Havana as a young age and performed as divas for over a decade before their lives were changed by the 1959 revolution.
Though neither had any siblings, they formed a sisterhood on the stage. Through the 1940s, Caridad toured all over Cuba, performing in cities with Chinese communities as the leading actress of her opera troupe. Georgina quit opera to attend college, but her studies were interrupted by Castro’s revolution and her required military service.
Weaving together interviews, photographs and archive footage, Havana Divas is a unique look into over 170 years of Chinese migration in North and Latin America.
This screening is part of Whose Homeland, extensional touring screening programme presented by Sine Screen. The programme explores ideas of migration, diaspora identity and home with stories created by Chinese and Chinese mixed heritage filmmakers. As an award-winning filmmaker and scholar, S. Louisa Wei’s work is centred on gender and cinema as well as Chinese immigration overseas. It will be the first time Louisa’s work returns to Manchester in 10 years.
The event will feature a short intro by Sine Screen and a director's intro. Free tea and biscuits provided.
I have always been drawn to people who are able to cross borders of art, language, race and culture. It is refreshing to see young people cross borders when they are emboldened by their lack of experience; just as it is touching to see older people cross borders in the name of love and nostalgia. The journey of Caridad and Georgina is what I call a journey of “love” and what my producer Law Kar calls a journey of “nostalgia.” While I relate to these women through the love they have for their fathers, Law Kar sees how their youth, filled with the song and performance of Cantonese opera, became the impetus for them to “return” to Hong Kong and Canton. Last year, I lost my father in a traffic accident. At first, I only felt hurt by the painful knowledge that such a loss is permanent and irreversible. Now, I begin to see that the true colour of a fatherly love does not fade. My father taught me music; he taught me to be passionate, to value optimism, and to keep an open and inquisitive mind. These lessons continue to enliven and brighten my life. When I follow Caridad and Georgina’s journey from Cuba to China, I can’t help but see it as an extension of their love for their late fathers and a testament to what their fathers had left them. Following their journey, I see their splendour on the opera stage slipping away over and over: first, with the end of China’s Civil War in 1949 when many Chinese coolies moved back to China leaving a diminishing Chinatown; again, when Communist leader Fidel Castro assumed power, prompting remaining Chinese Cubans to move to other parts of America; and a third time, when they returned to Hong Kong and Canton just in time to witness the decline of Cantonese opera as an art form even in China. A deep sense of nostalgia and pathos permeates their movement through the fading vestiges of the charm of a golden age. What I hope to bring to life in this documentary is not only the legend of these women, but the poignant beauty of love and loss that surrounds our collective feelings for our fathers.
With a PhD in Film Studies from University of Alberta (Canada), Dr Louisa Wei joined the School of Creative Media in 2001 and has taught over 2000 students. Her courses are mostly related to filmmaking, film history, storytelling, and topics in media/popular culture; while she also advises student studio/thesis projects in fiction/script writing, documentary, narrative film, and projects with gender-related themes. As an independent documentary filmmaker, her two feature films—Storm under the Sun (2009) and Golden Gate Girls (2014)—have gained international recognition from academia and film festivals, as well as attracted media attention ranging from Hollywood’s trade magazine to major newspapers in Hong Kong and mainland China. As a scholar, she has published books including Cinema East and West (2014), PreAnimate: A Guide for Independent Animators (2010), and Women’s Film: Dialogues with Chinese and Japanese Female Directors (2009). As an experienced teacher and advisor, Wei has advised many award-winning graduation projects, including Chan Hau Chun’s short documentary 32+4 (2014, Gold Award of IFVA – Open Category; Principal Prize of the 61st International Short Film Festival Oberhausen), Andrew Lone’s feature documentary My Chinese Acquaintances (2012, Gold Remi Award at Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival), Wong Yee Mei’s short documentary This Pair (2011, Gold Award of IFVA – Open Category), Chan Tsz-wai Wallis’ narrative short Daylily (2010, Silver Award of IFVA – Open Category), and Sheetal Agawal’s documentary Ordinary Lives (Michael Moore Award for Best Documentary in the 44th Ann Arbor Film Festival 2006; Best Documentary Kodak Award in the 20th Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Student Competition 2005).
Sine Screen is a female-led emerging screening organisation dedicated to showcasing independent cinema, art films and documentaries from East and Southeast Asia, particularly the sinosphere. Sine Screen aim to subvert the dominant gaze, challenge the representation of East and Southeast Asia as well as opening up discussions through curating diverse programmes of films by and about ESEA people.