I’m God When I Give Life

Francisco Castro

From the Cuban soap opera "Aqui Estamos" - photo: Martha Vecino Ulloa, juventud rebelde

One of the best lessons I ever received from my television-media professor —and which I’ll never forget— was summarized in a phrase that she was never tired of repeating: “The director is God.”

I am God when I give life to a character in the flesh of an actor and when I make that character have conflicts, confront them and either resolve them or not.  I am God when I decide on the environment that surrounds the character and how it influences them.  I am God when I decide where the story begins and where it ends, and what’s inside and outside of it.

However, what the professor didn’t teach us was that when a work goes out on the air, we’re nothing more than tormented spirits… assuming that the production makes it on the air.

Today I was among a group of creators of televised dramas, where they discussed with anguish the importance they deserved from the leaders who determine the approach of the media.

They talked about dramas within the hierarchy of television programming and about the space these are assigned. They also spoke strongly about censorship.

Among the works that are victims of ambiguous broadcasting policies (assuming that there are in fact written policies) was mentioned the telenovela (soap opera) that is currently being shown on Cuban TV screens three times a week. “Aquí estamos” (Here we are) has been controversial among all audiences in terms of its form as much as its content.

Leaving aside the quality of the script, the directing and the performances of the telenovela (that’s to say the formal aspects that some don’t give the importance they deserve), the leaders who decide the approach of the media have exerted enormous energy to bombard the show’s content.  This is because the program publically spotlights internal social problems that affect the correct and healthy functioning of the body of Cuban society.

In Cuba people take drugs, suicides are committed with firearms, prostitution exists, as does crime in all its expressions, along with double standards, administrative corruption, homosexuality (which unfortunately —despite the efforts made on the Day Against Homophobia each May 17, very insufficient ones I should add— this is still considered a problem), in addition to a longer laundry list of flaws…

It seems, though, that official “policy” consists of denying the existence of these problems, which has meant that every day the telenovela has been subjected to a process of mutilation to “soften” what it’s been making public.  Of course this operation is carried out from the sidelines, beyond the control of its creators.  Those who once were God…

Many years ago, the then up-and-coming Cuban film director Tomas Gutierrez-Alea proposed the creation of an alternative cinema that “would play the role of an instrument of in-depth exploration and analysis.”  It would be a kind of scalpel that penetrated in the very meat of our reality and allowed us to get to the point where we could identify certain anomalies.

“The rest of the operation is for others to carry out,” explained Gutierrez-Alea.

That same year the now-classic Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) premiered in Cuba.

In this case, it’s not a question of being or not being God, but of what is or isn’t useful to society. Today, that cinema that was once proposed by Tomas Gutierrez-Alea could now be realized by the creators of Cuban television dramas.  The material resources exist, as does the talent and the readiness of the creators.  We exist, aquí estamos (here we are) – here!  And here is where we want to work – for us, for our public, for our society.

What is lacking is the drafting of a policy on cultural creation.  When will we know (without of any type tepidness) what type of television they want us to make?  It’s time for audiovisual artists to be able to look at their work with pride for being contributions to human betterment, not as sources of embarrassment.  It’s time for engagement; it’s time for those who should be there to be there.  Our culture and the Cuban people deserve it.

Francisco Castro

Francisco Castro:Everything becomes simpler when one crosses the line of thirty. That does not make it easier, but rather the opposite. There I am on the other side of the line, trying to figure out, what little I know about art, politics, economy ... life, how to move without breaking oaths that seemed essential, how not to give up, how to make the years spent into a beacon to the future.