Cuba by way of Ireland: Viva explores Havana’s drag performers

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Héctor Medina stars as Jesus in Paddy Breathnach's Viva. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

Ireland’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, the film Viva will screen in Vancouver later this month.

Viva is the story of Jesus, a young hairdresser working at a Havana nightclub that showcases drag performers, who dreams of being a performer himself. Encouraged by his mentor, Mama, Jesus finally gets his chance to take the stage. But when his estranged father abruptly re-enters his life, his world is quickly turned upside down. As father and son clash over their opposing expectations of each other, Viva becomes a love story as the men struggle to understand one another and reconcile as a family.

“I was inspired to make Viva when I saw some drag shows in Havana,” says director Paddy Breathnach. “A sheet hung up in a suburban backyard and a single light bulb created a theatre and a world of dreams out of nothing. This power of transformation and creation was driven by a desire to express identity in a raw, unabashed passionate voice. It was intoxicating.”

Working with screenwriter Mark O’Halloran, the two set out to explore the deeper theme of transformation through the story of Jesus and his father.

“At the heart of the story is a battle for identity and love between a father and son,” Breathnach continues. “I wanted to tell a story where we find light in a dark place and where what is perceived as weakness transforms to be seen as strength.

Viva plays the Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour St, Vancouver) from April 29 – May 5. Visit http://viff.org for exact showtimes.

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