Recently I had the privilege of attending a special presentation and discussion on the film “Memories of Development,” by a Cuban director who lives in the United States, Miguel Coyula. This presentation of this film, inspired by Edmundo Desnoes’s novel of the same name, was carried out within the discussion forum “Seeing Is Believing,” sponsored by the Cinema, Radio and Television Association of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.
The discussion was conducted in the presence of the director as well as various figures of Cuban intellectual circles.
The story of this movie is told primarily through associations of images, sounds and texts, which puts it in the pastiche of plastic arts and to a language of purely digital cinema. This causes many of its discussions to occur unnoticed in the first viewing.
However, what didn’t go unnoticed were some of the films thematic lines. These approach the historical and social situation of Cuba spanning from the 1960s until the first years of the 21st century; in other words, the stage of the “revolutionary forces in power.”
Critically, the film director dissects this reality with a scalpel, exhibiting its bowels, the most hidden features, those that possess the stench of error, of the never-recounted truth. He is able to expose us to a body that is incredible and admirably human. Indeed, the Revolution was born and is developed by humans – failing as much as they triumph.
The movie doesn’t stop only in Cuba; it also analyzes US history and society, a place where the protagonist goes into exile because —despite recognizing the major achievements of the new Cuban strategy— he also sees the slip-ups and gets tired being dictated as to what he has to say and do. In this way, the film becomes a kind of great autopsy that lays bare the results that at least open a passage for doubt, for dialogue, for understanding.
The discussion proceeded over flat and non-slippery surfaces, perhaps because most of the specialized public could not fully identify with the conflict of being uprooted or the inability of the protagonist to adapt. However, one comment caught my attention, since it delved into the possible perception of the film by the average spectator, into the dialogue that the movie presented, with a language perhaps a bit distant from what we’re accustomed.
It questioned the fact that the movie will not be accepted in the upcoming Havana Festival of the New Latin American Cinema due to us Cubans “not being prepared to receive discourse like that.”
After more than half a century of free and high-quality education; of publishing the most select books of Cuban and world literature (and the least select as well, of course); of accessing information updated by various forms of media; of having begun the ambitious initiative of transforming the people into the most learned citizenry in the world; after all that, we must ask: what’s the purpose of Cuban education? For what are Cubans prepared?
When will we put into practice all the theory that has been instilled in us? When will we see the fruits of so many years of effort? When will we stop underestimating ourselves?
Or perhaps the question should be: When will we stop being afraid?