By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad
HAVANA TIMES, Dec 5 — On the first of December, beginning at 10:00 in the morning, the cinemas of the capital city opened for the 33rd International Festival of New Latin American Cinema. Fortunately, this is the month that provides us with the coolness of our mild winters, making movement from one cinema to another more enjoyable.
Despite its scant audience, one of the most multifaceted sections is “Hecho en Cuba” (Made in Cuba), as it consists of documentaries, fiction, shorts and animated films. Though these are made by both nationals and foreigners, they always maintain Cuba as the center stage and Cubans as the protagonists.
One of the movies in this section, Artesano del tiempo, presents us with the figure of Nicolas – a teacher, a Catholic and a lover of timepieces. Nicolas collects all kinds of them in his house (both clocks and watches), and he ensures that each one gives the exact time. Obsessed with time, he builds a large clock with exposed mechanism by using spare parts from his collection.
The result is high precision, the admiration of their neighbors in the face of such accuracy and the satisfaction of this Cuban who looks at his watch as if were his TV. Describing his feelings when he sits in front of one, he says: “I forget the world. I forget my own needs when looking at these beautiful mechanisms. Everything moves with such synchronization.”
Another work in this section is Las islas de Hemingway (Hemingway’s Islands), a documentary by Esteban Rios that was made this year. Though it deals with the writer’s relationship with Cuba, it adds nothing new about the interaction between the inhabitants of the island and the famous novelist.
It doesn’t even interview the fishermen from the seaside village of Cojimar with whom he maintained a certain degree of empathy. One of the many researchers who appear makes an attempt to separate Hemingway from myth, but everything indicates that this wasn’t the intention of the documentary; it doesn’t even allow us to hear his opinions.
Meanwhile, many people are unaware of the descendants of the indigenous peoples who lived in Cuba; indeed, it’s common to hear the phrase “the Spanish exterminated the Indians.” Nevertheless, the community of La Rancheria is an example that there were in fact survivors of that genocide; one needs only go to the mountains of Guantanamo Province. In absentia, a documentary by Tareq Daoud, was filmed in that settlement earlier this year.
For some it’s a naïve starry-eyed documentary, for others it’s a subtle way of showing the contrasts between what this community was like in the past and what it has become over the years. At the beginning, the head of the village recalls their relationship with the land that “gives you bread and water.” He tells us how he goes into the mountains and connects with it.
Later the inhabitants of La Rancheria describe the changes they’ve experienced, from the type of dress they used to wear — which at some point they stopped wearing — to the entry of the Communist Party into the province and into their lives.
Some of them are nostalgic for the thatched huts of the past because these were cooler than the houses of today, while others prefer the newer homes (built of wood and with tin roofs) because the huts leaked. Among these residents are contradictions, but all of them accept the new way of life, while those who don’t wish to accept it merely leave.
The most interesting is that some of them hint (you don’t know whether intentionally or naively) that their lives consist of doing what others order them to do.
We are shown how nothing is stolen in La Rancheria, it’s kept clean, it has its CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution), its Federation of Cuban Women committee, and how they comply with what they’re told to do — if not, “we are no one” (so say these descendants of indigenous Cubans).
People go to see them because they live there as the true race of “Indians” and have earned the rank of the “first indigenous community,” which gives them advantages over those that don’t meet the requirements of that category (since they’ve been issued the certificate).
The director reads an excerpt from the visitors’ book, which begins with the passage “This community is an example of what socialism can do,” and is signed by the first secretary of the party in the province. This is a discourse that leaves suspicions about the true way of life of those descendants of the indigenous peoples who inhabited our island when the Spanish arrived.
But at least we know they are there and that we can visit them, though we don’t know whether we should ask for special permission or if we can just drop in for a surprise visit.
Many things can be learned by attending the festival, and the “Hecho en Cuba” section is a good opportunity to delve into the intimacies of people, characters and places, or the obsessions of those of us who live in Latin America.