By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES – I always tell people that I am an actress and writer. I don’t like labels, but I have also been working behind the camera for six years now. My performance doesn’t fit in with the traditional standard of filmmaking, because Miguel Coyula (producer, director, photographer, editor and screenwriter of his own movies), works with a two-person crew instead of a team of at least 15, which I was used to as an actress.
Generally-speaking, this has been his way of working since his first feature films Cucarachas Rojas (2003) and Memorias del Desarrollo (2010). In these instances, some of his main collaborators while shooting in the US have been actors Ron Blair, Adam Plotch, Thalia Rubel, Jeff Pucillo, Limor Garfinkle, Yukiko Niigata, Leila Babson, Theodore Boloukus, Jose Angel Santana and in production, David Leitner, Juan Martínez and Susana Dejkanovic. However, Corazon Azul, a movie made by Producciones Piramide, is being shot in Havana.
Ironically, some people in Cuba still believe that you can make a living as an actor, although reality proves the exact opposite. It is not insignificant that many young people, the majority in fact, choose to migrate after recently graduating from acting schools here. Maybe the struggle in New York City brings people back down to earth and every actor adjusts to their own financial situation.
That’s to say, you don’t ask pears from a production of guavas. You don’t ask that independent movies give you what they can’t, large sums of money. I’m referring to an incident with a Cuban actor in Corazon Azul. This movie has been in the works for 8 years, with our guerrilla production company. The actor abandoned the project, and after three years, he demanded US $2,000 to sign over his image rights. This is a fortune if you bear in mind the movie’s total budget, especially when you consider the fact that this isn’t a commercial film.
My role at Producciones Piramide changes according to what needs to be done. From holding a light, to turning up a pair of pants. As well as acting, I design wardrobe, do make-up, am the director’s assistant, the art assistant and also the co-producer on the movie.
It’s what Stanislavsky would see as a way of undervaluing art, what the rest of us call craftsmanship.
However, where does the craft end and the art begin? Questioning the Russian master’s rejection when he called it this, and focusing on film, you could say that low budgets shouldn’t condition the final result. This would essentially be the same thing as blaming the US embargo for the shortage of pumpkins at agro-markets, when we know that if you water the seeds in your vegetable patch, you’ll have your harvest in less than a year.
What I mean to say is that you can make art with very little, because ideas are what are important, and making sure that these are in dialogue with the artist’s reality. The result is what counts, not the process, even if the movie is affected by the way it is made, because nobody cares how easy or difficult it was to make, they only ever judge the final outcome: the movie.
Many people believe that Corazon Azul has quite a large budget because of its execution. It doesn’t matter that it is the result of years of editing. Or repeating the same scene over and over again, because something didn’t go as planned. Or the hours of sleep lost when filming in exterior spaces without authorization. Or making outfits with a sewing machine.
At the BFI London Film Festival recently, Martin Scorcese said that movie theaters have become a theme park. He particularly criticized Marvel superhero movies, according to Scorsese they just aren’t film. We are probably witnessing the sentiment of this era. Maybe art (in this case film) has to return to its origins in order to rediscover its authenticity like Gaudi said about architecture. It might also be the result of so many movies and this number diminishes the existence of film as art.
I have accepted the decision of a filmmaker who has been cut off from the country’s cultural scene, because at the end of the day, I am the cliché of the actress/Muse and the director’s partner. I see reality from the standpoint of a censored actress, because I also exercise my sovereignty writing online.
Now, a new Decree-Law has been passed (373) to do away with independent production companies. They are creating the illusion that this is the end. In reality, this is just an explicit sign of the failure of national cultural policy because in the face of a lack of trust in institutions, bureaucrats have said: “If it isn’t the easy way, then it’ll be the hard way.”
This reminds me of the 400 years we had of Spanish colonialism. Not too long ago, I read an interview with Ivan de la Nuez, a Cuban writer living in Barcelona, who said that in Spain, there is even an institution for graffiti artists. There is nothing more treacherous for this street art than setting up a building, just so it can be controlled.
The independent movie Eres Tu Papa? by filmmaker Rudy Riveron Sanchez, who has an impressive career in the international film scene (17 festivals, 9 awards), has been vetoed from the Havana Film Festival. I wonder whether this decision has anything to do with my presence in the movie. There are only two reasons for dismissing it, malice or stupidity. I believe it’s a matter of both.
We just took part in the Tampa Bay Latin Film Festival, with the documentary Nadie. I got to see the movie El Retablo, by filmmaker Alvaro Delgado Aparicio. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture was among one of the movie’s first credits. At the end of the day, what is a credit but credibility? If ministries in your country don’t want you, then you just aren’t trustworthy. That’s when I discovered that the movies I’ve worked on with Producciones Piramide are orphans.
During the Q&A session after the screening of Nadie if the audience had been in Egypt some viewers might have thrown shoes. Let’s imagine that given the tendency of auto-correcting yourself politically-speaking because you need to be politically correct (which according to Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizeq was the new form of totalitarianism), who would want to screen a movie that generates this kind of reaction?
There was a heated argument between a Colombian, a Cuban, and then a Mexican also joined in. Even the moderator (Kelly Kirchner) was forced to remind them that they had forgotten about the guests, us. This has been the best experience in my professional life. I felt like the movie was changing something, even if it were something small.
What good are movies if they don’t create controversy, a debate? Are they just meant to be easy watching? Of course, solitude is tough. Every time a rule is broken, there is a fight between liberation and conservation. For daring to do this, we are considered responsible. How much longer can we resist like this? Making movies against every political stripe. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking too far into the future because, at the end of the day, the present is the only thing we have.