HAVANA TIMES — When we arrived at Jorge Perugorria’s house, on the outskirts of Havana, we didn’t find ourselves in front of a snazzy member of the US’ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but before “Pichi” a warm and simple man, the same man he’s always been. He welcomed us wearing shorts and flip-flops, without any airs. We spoke out on the patio of his house, having a cup of coffee, like you would do at any ordinary Cuban’s home.
What did you think about when you found out that you were a member of this US Academy?
Jorge Perugorria: It came as a great surprise, I really wasn’t expecting it. The first thing that came to my mind was Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio who were the ones to open up the doors of cinema to me and everything I’ve ever done in my career has been marked by Fresa y Chocolate. I kept thinking and Humberto Sola, Julio Garcia Espinosa, Alfredo Guevara, Santiago Alvarez, all the greats of Cuban film, also came to my mind because having my work recognized is also giving recognition to Cuban film.
But they didn’t make you a member just because of one film, no matter how good it was, such was the case with Fresa y Chocolate.
JP: That’s right, I think they were really acknowledging my whole body of work, I mean I’ve made 60 films since Fresa y Chocolate. My career has also gone further than just Cuban film, I’ve also worked in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Chile and in Europe, mainly in Spain but also in Italy and in Portugal. The international spotlight must have also factored in pretty heavily when they decided to choose me.
What does it mean to be a member of the Academy?
JP: I also belong to the Spanish Film Academy and it demands a great deal of responsibility because you’re transformed into somebody with a vote who decides who’ll be nominated for the Goyas and who the winners will be in each category. Now, it’s the same thing in Hollywood just that this time it’s with the Oscars, which therefore implies a great commitment to film.
The US Academy is currently undergoing a restructuring process due to the protests made at the last Oscar Award ceremony. The Academy has been very quick to take action, it’s a very prestigious institution but even though it’s also very old and traditional, it has been able to restructure itself so as to be more inclusive when choosing its members. Members were mainly white men, now there are women, Latin Americans and the Spanish are going to have more a presence.
Are there any other Cubans in the Academy?
JP: I don’t know if there are any Cubans who live abroad who are members, but I’m the first one that lives in Cuba.
You’re in charge of the Cine Pobre (low budget) Film Festival, what’s that about?
JP: It was Humberto’s (Sola) idea when we were filming “Honey for Oshun”. It was the first digital film to be made in Cuba and as we were filming it in the town of Gibara, we decided to hold the festival there. It was conceived to give digital productions visibility, but in the end, all kinds of films were being shown. Humberto did his best to make it an interactive festival which also included other art forms, such as music, dance or painting.
After Humberto’s death, the festival also began to slowly disappear and, as I had been involved with the project since the beginning, they asked me to take charge of it and I feel it’s very important to revive this festival for many reasons, but also because it has had a great impact on the people of Gibara.
Because of your international fame, what do you think you can contribute to Cuban film?
JP: To keep on working. I’ve never lost touch with Cuban film nor with our directors, and I’ve even had to turn down interesting international proposals. I used to say “no” to directors I would have liked to have worked with and to films that made it big because Titon (Tomas Gutierrez Alea), Humberto or Arturo used to call me. Cuban films have always been my priority.
Even though it’s low budget cinema?
JP: Ha, ha, ha, yes, even if it is cine pobre. And I’ve always tried to use my international influence to help Cuban directors with their projects and to shine a light so that Cuban film would have more visibility. It’s something I’ve always done, and will continue to do.
Is Cuban film trying to restructure itself nowadays?
JP: Yes, there’s a whole new project about film management. Directors have come together and are creating a new film law, a proposal which they are presenting to the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Art Institute of Cinematography (ICAIC). Cuban directors are becoming more and more aware of how things work outside of Cuba and are becoming more independent in terms of managing their projects and looking for funding.
They are working on this law, it still hasn’t been passed, but i think that those who head the ICAIC, who are always present at meetings, are aware of how important it is to listen to them. I think that someday this law will become a reality, along with all the other changes that are taking place in our country.
What is the future of Cuba? Will it continue to make its own films or will it just become another Hollywood set?
JP: US producers have already shown their interest and have come to Cuba to shoot their films, it’s already happening. This shouldn’t scare Cuban film-makers though because these kinds of things run in parallel. What Cuba needs to do is to take advantage of the resources that can be made from providing services to these large producers in order to support and produce Cuban films, to reinvest in our own film production.