By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES — On December 17th 2014, what is today’s stunted rapprochement process between the US and Cuban governments, was born after Barack Obama and Raul Castro’s announcements. This historic event opened up the door to the island negotiating directly with big-time US companies.
Hollywood producers were encouraged by what was going on and shot the eighth sequel of the “Fast and Furious” saga with the cooperation from Cuba’s Culture Ministry. There was also the exclusive fashion show in Old Havana put on by Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel, among the most obvious displays.
These events were followed by a series of scandals on social media, relating to the Cuban government and institutions’ lack of transparency with regard to where the money received during these negotiations ended up, or the speed with which shooting permits in areas were granted when these would be very difficult for backyard filmmakers on the island to get a hold of, such as the Malecon, Old Havana or being able to fly a helicopter above the entire city of Havana.
Truth be told, this led to an “apparent” paralyzation in relations as a result, including the Sundance Institute, which had been welcomed with open arms by the Havana Film Festival organizers, especially by its president Ivan Giroud, and then after this, representatives from this institution were practically left alone in later visits, without even being promoted.
Now, what those officials didn’t know, including the dismissed Culture Minister Julian Gonzalez, the first one to be laid to rest after the scandal broke out, was that everything would end up in the right place at the right time, but with the certainty that these powers would be well-distributed this time among Raul’s men, so that “capital wouldn’t escape” into untouchable hands again.
As a result, Cuban institutions have become derelict buildings, where fear rules, while a select few pocket everything. The Cuban people’s reality is something like an emaciated buffet where everything is controlled, where plates come in and leave, but they can’t have access to the restaurant’s real menu.
For nearly three years, a group of Cuban filmmakers, critics and producers have been fighting a struggle, demanding that the Cuban authorities pass a film industry law.
Fernando Perez, Enrique Colina, Juan Carlos Cremata, among other filmmakers; Gustavo Arcos, Dean Luis Reyes, among the critics. They came together and outlined the foundations for demanding this law, with a study and analysis that date back before the government’s guidelines and legislation for independent labor, where they placed this project in the cooperative category, so as to give legal recognition to independent producers, who still today remain in some kind of limbo.
The grounds were perfect, so much so that not approving it would make all too apparent the government’s unwillingness to make any changes.
There is a company which seemed quite dull beforehand, in fact actors used to joke: “RTV Comercial is the ICRT (Cuban Institute of Radio and Television), dressed up in silk.” However, reality indicates that the Radio and Television Marketing Company (RTV Comercial) is growing. Meanwhile, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), (which at least has the word “Art” in its initials) has less and less power, there are even areas in the city where permits can only be requested via RTV Comercial.
On the other hand, any foreign production has to land just in the abovementioned company’s offices. As a result, even Cuba’s Audiovisual Association (which was in danger of extinction when it could also negotiate with foreign productions and intervene as a mediator in the past) has lost its power.
Plus, RTV Comercial has cutting-edge technology, with the latest cameras and equipment, and the prices of their services go through the roof.
What is really going on with RTV Comercial? Well, rumor has it that there is a militaryman behind this company’s farce, that is to say it already has an owner. Some people have dared to predict that this company wants to be Cuba’s great “telenovela (soap opera) company” and compete with the South American giant O Globo in Brazil. If you’ve been taking a close look, you would have noticed that there have been some modern, sophisticated and grey trucks with this company’s logo traveling about the city for some time now.
The Astral movie theater is in very good condition, in contrast to how run-down the majority of Cuba’s movie theaters are, as well as the buildings belonging to the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT). This is because the Astral movie theater also belongs to RTV Comercial.
Moreover, it draws attentions to the direction TV productions are heading towards, especially when programs produced by this company emulate bad-taste foreign TV programs, which are conceived of and designed so as to be able to sell products, also linked to the TV channel CubaMax, based in Miami.
In this instance, the blockade doesn’t pose any problems, not even in the negotiation with US banks, or maybe even the existence of a third country where this corporation can transfer its money to.
Abandoning Cuban institutions exposes the lack of interest in preserving the country’s cultural heritage on the island, as well as the disintegrating Cuban State’s lack of control and efficiency. When the generations of intellectuals who were formed within the Revolution disappear, many of whom have a great respect and are extremely dedicated to art in the broadest sense of the word, the only people left will be subjects at the service of market interests.
Maybe, with all of the research carried out by the G-20: “The group of Cuban filmmakers” in creating a project to approve a film law has been kidnapped by these “new magnates”, as RTV Comercial operates as a cooperative which is what filmmakers demanded, but its only interest lies in strengthening a market, instead of national film industry.
Once again, everything will be erased, just like in 1959, and just as the pendulum of power swayed to the left, it is now moving towards the extreme right.