POLITICAL debate and visual art will accompany events on the big screen when the curtain goes up on the first Glasgow Havana Film Festival this month. Between screenings across the city, Cuban film-makers will offer a rare insight into their work in the Caribbean island.

A Latin beat breathes life into the twin cities of Glasgow and Havana and has been the soundtrack to festival director Eirene Houston’s relationship with Cuba since she first started visiting the nation 20 years ago.

“There’s an energy you feel in the air, a thirst for art and culture,” she says about Havana but could equally apply to her home town. The Glasgow-based screenwriter is the director of the first Glasgow Havana Film Festival and promises to bring a flavour of the Latin American arts world to a city that embraces culture from all around the globe.

From October 31 to November 8, films fans in Glasgow have a rare opportunity to watch Cuban movies on a big screen and meet film-makers from the Caribbean island nation. Bringing it all together has been a labour of love for Houston, who first visited Cuba in 1997.

“I had always wanted to go to Cuba. I had two kids who were growing up and I had just left the National Film and Television School and had ideas that I wanted to do something in Cuba and could finally go after all these years because I had that freedom,” she says.

“It was an expensive place to go to at that time, so I went over myself just to see what it was like. It blew me away. It’s not all that you expect. It was a real culture shock, not so much now but in 1997 it was a totally different world. The first time you come back you’re devastated until you go the second time and realise you can go back. I was so Cuba-sick the first time. There’s an energy bout the place, it’s just so vibrant.

“There is a connection, there’s a similarity in the people. When I get to Havana it’s familiar for a Glaswegian. The banter you have with a taxi driver, which happens in Cuba. It’s the same kind of easy openness that feels familiar. I love going and I love that connection.”

From her first visit to the island, Houston - who has worked on EastEnders, Monarch of the Glen and This Life - knew she wanted to make a film there. The result was 2012’s Day of the Flowers, with a screenplay by Houston and starring Eve Birthistle and Charity Wakefield as two Scottish sisters who steal their father’s ashes from their stepmother and head to Cuba to find a final resting place for his remains.

Cuba kept pulling her back and she started working at the film school in Havana, where she met actor and writer Hugo Rivalta, then a mature student who went on to make a big name for himself in Cuban television. Houston went on to make contacts in the Cuban film world with cinematographer Robert Chile, who worked with her on her most recent project, documentary The Cuban Way, about the country’s passion for dance.

With Havana and Glasgow twin cities, there has never been a better time to bring Cuban culture to Scotland.

“When I went to the film festival in Havana with Day of the Flowers I realised there are lots of wonderful films coming out of Latin America, specifically Cuba, that people don’t get a chance to see. It has been very difficult because of the financial problems and the blockade for them to even get films finished. For example, some films will only be shown on Blu-ray,” says Houston.

It will be a rare treat for film fans in Glasgow to see three UK premieres in the screenings of La Pelicula de Ana, La Pared de las Palabras, Conducta, In Cuba They’re Still Dancing, Red Skirts on Clydeside, Day of the Flowers, Boccaccerias Habaneras, Mi Dicen Cuba and Never Ever Never Land.

The Cuban film-makers who will be sharing their experience with festival goers are director Fernando Perez, who will be taking a Q&A after the UK premiere of La Pared de las Palabras at GFT; television writer Hugo Rivalta, who will present a masterclass on writing for Cuban TV and a history of Cuban cinema; and director Alejandro Valera, who recently moved to Glasgow and will present two of his Los Van Van videos, one of which was nominated for a Grammy.

And there will be an exhibition of the work of three Cuban artists at Glasgow School of Art, as well as the launch of Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt’s book To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture, at CCA and a political debate at Gilmorehill Cinema, Socialism reinvented? chaired by Unison Scotland branch development officer Jennifer McCarey.

Stravaigin in Gibson Street hosts a Cuban food night during the festival and Mango on Sauchiehall Street will be the place to go for late-night club nights.

“It’s a real coup to get Fernando Perez here. He is in his 70s, is a top director and is only coming to Glasgow for a weekend as he is busy working on his next film. We will be talking about Glasgow’s socialist history, the connection with Cuba and our reason to celebrate that twin city status,” says Houston. “One of the interesting things about Cuba is how art and music is so embedded in the culture.”

Glasgow Havana Film Festival, tomorrow to November 8. www.hgfilmfest.com