By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago I had the opportunity to watch the documentary Epicenter, by Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sauper. This film was a winner in the most recent edition of the Sundance Film Festival.
Epicenter owes its name to the fact that Cuba became the first mock victim country for US intervention. The exploding of the Maine vessel brought the Spanish-Cuban war to an end, in our delayed struggle for independence.
Epicenter is the story of a group of Cuban children who live in Centro Habana, in very humble living conditions. However, they manifest a deep anti-imperialist feeling. In turn, the film shows that new world of luxury hotels with name brand stores, where a set of pens costs US $2,580. The children answer the question of how much time their grandmothers and mothers would have to work in order to buy them. Faced with the absurd, they laugh.
The film is a tribute to the cinema, through interventions on reality, beyond fiction. There is an interest in demystifying the technique, shredding the experience, understanding the power of the image and its use as a tool for domination.
Sauper includes a scene where Spanish soldiers appear shooting Cuban prisoners. He denounces within the work itself, that these images were a US montage to make the Spaniards seem crueler. In essence, he declares that the US has conquered the world through cinematography.
During the premiere in Cuba, at the Festival House of the New Latin American Cinema in El Vedado, when before it had only been screened at Sundance in Utah, Sauper narrated how well the film was received, to the point of obtaining the most important award in its category.
It catches my attention that, one of the goals of the film is to show the anti-imperialism of children, the topic of greatest interest of its director. I recalled when we presented “Nadie” (Nobody) to the programmers of Sundance, who rejected it. A few months later we learned from a source that this festival was not interested in films with political approaches made by Cubans. They wanted human interest stories.
In other words, in the case of “Memories of Development” (2010), which was in the New Frontiers section of Sundance, had it been released in 2017 as “Nadie” it would not have been in the profile either. What changed in seven years is that now Sundance has alliances with Havana.
So, was the decision to include a film like Epicentro, which presents a hard Cuban reality, part of a cultural or political agenda? Does it mean that those who cannot exercise their right to public questioning are Cuban filmmakers?
I remember that during the first meetings with the delegation from Sundance, John Cooper, its director, in a frank way confessed: “Forgive my sincerity, but for me Cuba was a point on the map, nobody told us about you [filmmakers] at school.”
That comment seemed so transparent that it bordered on cruelty. It made me understand how much the proximity to the United States hurts our culture, addressed before in essays by Jose Marti, during his long stays in that troubled and brutal north.
We are part of the democracy game of rich countries. Cinema is a good way to understand the reasoning of prevailing policies, both in government and cultural spheres. Obviously, Cuba is not on the agenda of countries that need to show their uncomfortable truths, because these are not applauded in the institutional epicenter of independent cinema, which is Sundance.