…in protest of institutional censorship
By Lynn Cruz
A true word, spoken by a single man even, is more powerful, in certain situations, than an entire army. Words illuminate, stir and free people. Words also have a power. This is the power of intellectuals. – Vaclav Havel
HAVANA TIMES – For sixty-one long years, control exercised by Cuban cultural policy has been so successful that censored artists, especially filmmakers, have been silenced, while festivals have continued on as normal, indifferent. This time, a group of young filmmakers have made a difference.
While discussing the program for the 19th edition of the ICAIC Young Filmmakers Festival, the board decided to censor the documentary film Suenos al pairo by Jose Luis Aparicio Ferrera and Fernando Fraguela Fosado, after long, intense days of dialogue, according to festival organizers who posted this information on the event’s Facebook page.
Further on, the post explained:
“… This movie took part in the 10th edition of the Haciendo Cine contest and had the institute’s support in gaining access to images from its Film Archive. The use of these image rights has now been denied to its directors…”
This statement was accompanied by the names of movies and directors who had also withdrawn their films from the event, as an act of solidarity. Umbra, by Daniela Munoz Barroso, El amor de las cucarachas, by Regis Guedes, and Los puros, by Carla Valdes Leon. And this is how the action went viral and more and more filmmakers refused to take part in a festival that was excluding two of their colleagues.
I remember back when there was a scandal in December 2016, because the movie Santa y Andres, by Carlos Lechuga, had been taken off a festival program, but it had been the Havana Film Festival. Venezuelan director Jonathan Jakubowics contacted Lechuga to tell him he was going to withdraw his film Manos de piedra (Hands of stone) from the festival in protest and the event’s organizers broke off all communication with him. Jakubowics said he was sure other colleagues would also withdraw their films.
Jakubowics argued that he couldn’t be involved in an event where censorship was being exercised. I found out because at that time, journalist Luz Escobar (from 14 y Medio newspaper) reached out to me so that I could give the directors this news, which I did. It’s a shame that international solidarity never came to light.
Four months after, in April 2017, there was a police raid and State Security agents prevented the screening of the documentary Nadie by Miguel Coyula (which I act in and produced) from taking place at the La Casa Galeria El Circulo, which is run by visual artist Luis Trapaga. Every time an artist keeps quiet, they are giving the government the green light to crush their colleagues.
Luckily, young filmmakers have taken action today, and not with the old spirit and mindset. Social media, especially Facebook, flooded with messages of solidarity with the filmmakers. “Suenos al pairo” tells the story of Mike Porcel, an avant-garde Cuban musician in 1970s Cuba.
However, the movie about the beaten, repudiated, repressed composer has now become the fate of these young filmmakers. Fifty years later, Aparicio Ferrera and Fraguela Fosado find themselves in the exact same situation, but with a marked difference, people are now questioning this.
“To be or not to be?”, Hamlet asked in front of his father’s grave. We are in fact standing before a corpse, telling the story again. The leader took the Cuban Revoluton with him to his grave. The countdown has begun in this time of emptiness.
That said, what does it mean, from a political standpoint, if a dozen filmmakers withdraw their movies from ICAIC’s Young Filmmakers Festival, in an act of solidarity with their colleagues? A systemic failure which means the bureaucrats, the new ruling class of revolutionary genetic engineering, have lost their power.
The ICAIC Young Filmmakers Festival, which used to be the Young Filmmakers Festival, was founded to source new talent, and it takes place every April. These shocks, the product of censorship, happen in cycles. Let’s also remember that Fernando Perez (one of the most important living directors) resigned in 2011 as the exhibition’s president, taking a political stance when the documentary “Despertar,” by Ricardo Figueredo and Anthony Bubaire, was censored.
Furthermore, the movie “Quiero hacer una pelicula”, by Yimit Ramirez was recently censored in 2018, in which one of the characters says that Jose Marti is a turd and faggot, unleashing the fury of bureaucrats. I still haven’t seen the movie, but according to what I’ve been told the protagonists’ take on this phrase comes from their immaturity, while questioning their reality.
On the other hand, independent movies share a common feature: they are all post-Communist. Those pioneers (post-Revolution Cuban children) who grew up, once believed in the phrase: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Today, the youth are questioning today’s reality, so different to the times of those childhood slogans.
Juggling between offices and desks, they brewed the punishment: they fired Carla Valdes, a young filmmaker and president of the festival, and when there was a protest, they panicked and postponed it without fixing a date. For now, all we know is that ICAIC’s vice-president, Tania Delgado, is the new person in charge of the young filmmakers festival, in a last minute shift of power.
That said, gagging this group of artists, in a country that is visibly old, is like cutting the shoots off a tree. Without them, and lost for breath, not being able to regenerate, the tree will end up half-rotten or dead.
My question is, have officials understood that, without movies or filmmakers, these events don’t make any sense? Have young filmmakers finally understood that they don’t need institutions, but vice-versa?