Like a Ray of Light

Yusimi Rodriguez

Charles Chaplin theater in Havana. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 27 – It was like a ray of light when a group of television producers arrived in the small Cuban town of San Pablo de Yabo, tucked away in the Sierra Maestra mountain range.

Until that moment, life for residents there swung only between work and rest, with few alternatives for recreation. When they first found out about the arrival of these directors, the locals supposed they would be merely passing through, as had happened with visitors on other occasions. Later, when they learned they were going to film a movie, residents figured actresses and actors would have to be brought in, and that accommodations would have to be found for them there in the mountains.

What the community least suspected was that they themselves would wind up being the performers, and that the local television network would be filming their daily struggles, joys, sorrows and dreams – in short, their lives.

This is the story that is narrated —in only 15 minutes— in the documentary “Como un rayo de luz” (Like a ray of light) by directors Tatiana Canro and Ariagna Fajardo of TV Serrana. The film is competing in the 9th Exhibition of New Film Directors being screened in Havana from February 23 to 28 at the Chaplin and Titon cinemas, the 23 & 12 Cinema, and at the ICAIC Cultural Film Center.

When leaving the cinema, my friends and I always comment to each other about what we’ve just seen.  When I told one of them that this documentary seemed exceptionally good, she shrugged her shoulders and replied, “Of course, it’s by Televisión Serrana.”

The only element that no longer surprises people about productions by this network is the fine quality. This time the crew dealt with a documentary on its own work in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, which went beyond filming the lives of the people there.  Like one of the directors said in an interview, “The TV Serrana people can’t build the bridge, but they can film a story that reveals the needs and difficulties of the local residents.”

And in precisely this way they’ve been able to help in finding solutions to many of the area’s problems. Although the documentary takes place in the town of San Pablo de Yabo, TV Serrana has also arrived in neighboring Guiza, Niquero and other communities of the region.  In these locales the crew screen documentaries in which members of the community are reflected.

But they also organize festivals of other artistic forms and teach township residents so they themselves can investigate issues of interest that can be documented, and so they can participate in the realization. I think TV Serrana has meant a ray of light not only for Sierra Maestra residents, but also for people who live in urban areas, especially in the capital.  We tend to ignore the situation of people in our countryside who live in such remote places and under conditions so very different from our own.

TV Serrana is a community television network, or as one of the directors defined it when interviewed in the documentary, “It’s a community project that was founded in the Sierra Maestra Mountains with the support of UNESCO in 1998.”  What’s more, it has now produced more than 500 audiovisual works.