A Moment with Marta Maria Borras

By Paula Henriquez

Marta Maria Borras

HAVANA TIMES — Marta Maria Borras presented Un instante (A moment) at the most recent edition of the festival that brings young Cuban filmmakers together and she took the Prize for Best Fiction, Best Script and Direction on this occasion, while her team also took away awards such as that for Best Female Performance.

Even though she remains firmly connected to the world of theater, she always finds room for film. She spoke to us about Un instante in this interview and also about her life, her films and (why not?) her dreams.

Marta, how did the short movie “Un instante” come to life?

After my first short movie, Paris, puertas abiertas (2014), I felt that there were still things left behind that I was interested in exploring. I had tried to work with some of these things in Paris… but I wasn’t satisfied, I knew that I had to keep on researching them. On the other hand, I learned a lot filming this first short movie, including filming and editing techniques, actors. I don’t have a film background and every project is a real intensive workshop for me to learn. After that first experience, I had more tools to be able to try and experiment with things that I was interested in.

As a director and scriptwriter, I’m very interested in my stories not having a closed story; I rather try to open up the narrative to multiple readings. This is a very difficult task for me, and
it’s always an attempt. However, I am interested in my films being open works, where the viewer can construct things from their own point of view, their sensitivity. For example, at the beginning, we didn’t know full well who was standing in a red dress, nor where they are. It’s something that the viewer needs to find an answer to, a meaning.

I also work with resources such as two dresses that are almost the same, in the same color. I believe these are resources that stray a little away from realism and lead the viewer to think a little bit about this coincidence. I am interested in working with resources that evoke something sensorial rather than something rational. That’s where my work with imagery, colors, shapes (circles and rectangles), sensuality, naked bodies, Edward Hopper’s paintings, come from. Of course, this is always just my intent. I feel that every project in an exercise in this regard and I am never pleased, I always learn new things.

On the other hand, Un instante is based on a personal doubt: Would it be possible to make a wish reality just for a moment? And it’s about something that I’m obsessed with: Cuban architecture. In this case, I wanted to work with prefabricated buildings, functional architecture for workers (which were later built by workers themselves with the so-called micro brigades). Today, these (micro) cities for workers are places of little aesthetic and social value. Hundreds of homogenous buildings, grey and uncomfortable beehives where nobody wants to live. So what happened to the dream that led to their creation?

Personally, I think about my parents who were builders of these places. They built every day, after finishing work, with their own hands the apartment building where they continue to live today, where they wouldn’t like to live, but they hold out and continue to go to work and come home tired. They built this building for me, so that one day I would have my own room. However, I always hated that building and I left as soon as I could.

The characters in this story are my parents. My mother: alone, divorced, bored, working in something she doesn’t enjoy. The girl is a mini version of myself. Every day, I feel like I’m more and more like my mother, that I’ll be just like her within a few years: alone, divorced, bored, working in something I don’t enjoy. So, where is this future society that my parents built for me?

My characters are two simple women who are trapped in their lives and their loneliness. Two Cuban women and, at the same time, two women from anywhere. They need to create an illusion for themselves, something that will help save them from the emptiness of their everyday lives. Maybe, this small moment of hope, salvation, is within themselves: in freeing their erotic desires, in their rediscovered beauty, in smoking a cigarette in peace and quiet. Both of them know that life goes on beyond themselves and they have this feeling of wanting something different to what we already have. Ultimately, I don’t mind being like my mother, she has now learned to build with her own hands small moments (after work) that help her get by.

Do you already have a team lined up when you start a project? If so, how do you carry out this process? What do you bear in mind?

In the case of Un instante, I did have a team. The communication I already had with a lot of the team who worked on Paris… was really tight. I wanted to try out new things and go over old things that hadn’t worked out so well, as I explained, and the communication we had was crucial to do that. We already understood each other, we spoke the same language, we didn’t have to start from scratch. Plus, I really admire them as professionals, the team makes the movie.

What does it mean to you to present your work at Cuba’s Young Filmmakers’ Festival?

I once said somewhere that I was a child of the Young Filmmakers’ Festival and I just said it, off the top of my head, and then I started thinking about it and it’s true. First of all, my projects have all been supported by Haciendo Cine and then I have screened them there. This has opened up the way for them being entered into festivals and nominated for awards.

I approached the Young Filmmakers’ Festival because it seemed like a place where I could find really interesting reflections about Cuba and its reality. I still go to the cinema when the event is on and I watch all of the series and I always discover new things about my country, which make me rethink it. This is something that makes me come back, its dedication to contemporary Cuba, its political and social processes. The day it doesn’t make me think about Cuba’s problems and difficult issues is the day that I will lose interest in it. For me, it’s one of the spaces that invite me to reflect about Cuba and its many different contexts.

From “Un Instante” (A moment)

This is why it’s the place where I like to come face to face with my work. I like the type of viewer who goes, any old week at 3 PM to see what young people are doing, the others, to watch short movies (with dissimilar styles) and not “movies”. There is an interest in this act that attracts me and which I respect.

What do you think you could change, improve at this event? What does it lack? What would you say its strengths are?

Well, I believe that its core aim is still to promote, give visibility, place a kind of film production on Cuba’s cultural scene. When I use the term “production”, I’m referring to several things: movies made by young people, who are starting out and don’t have many opportunities to present their work; languages and aesthetics that are being explored, I feel that this space is better at allowing us to show and put out other ways of making film than others; and the ways that these movies are made, which are independent projects, collaborations, family and personal projects, out of their own pocket, a lot of the time.

This visibility is given at different places: one, at movie theaters; two, other platforms such as your newspaper, Bisiesto, or the debates that come on Moviendo Ideas. For me, one of the most useful and important things, as well as showing (a movie of sorts), is to think about it, question it, create a public of viewers and followers of these processes. I could say promote it, but where, to who, what responsibility does this entail? That’s why the print magazine Bisiesto is very important, in my opinion. I’m thinking about its sections where creators themselves give their own opinions, essays (and not just critique) about movies, experts who organize themselves to write and how they write about what is happening in the film world. I believe that this is where a commitment to placing a kind of thinking and another way to approach production models lies.

Its shortcomings, well, I don’t know. I can better identify the shortcomings in Cuban film, the scarcities (of all different kinds) in the way movies are being produced, the need for greater funding for Cuban film. The latter, for example, is a very pressing scarcity. As an alternative, the Young Filmmakers’ Festival and, more specifically, Marisol Rodriguez created Haciendo Cine, which is where there are mostly collaborations. And thinking about collaborative production is a very good option, so as not to stay still. In fact, the way this space is managed and future support for projects all come from collaborative efforts, funding in affection, closely linked resources. But, of course, this can’t make up for the need for greater funding, so as to produce better results.

What would you propose to improve this, as a young filmmaker who has presented their work at this event on several occasions?

Further analysis in debates. In my opinion, a space such as Moviendo Ideas is crucial and it’s a shame that debates don’t always have a profound dialogue like they could.

I am also very interested in discovering other languages, aesthetics, creators with proposals that are very different to the ones we are used to seeing in Cuban film. And I believe that we have to develop this, emphasize it. To say that there is something important here, maybe in the making, so that we can continue to explore it, but we need to recognize it first of all.

What would you say the meeting ground is between young filmmakers and not-so-young filmmakers? Where do they diverge?

From “Un Instante”

Hmm, it’s really hard to think about it from that viewpoint, I mean to say, young and not-so-young filmmakers. A few days ago, I watched “Memories of Underdevelopment” again. What isn’t absolutely contemporary about this film? I watched it because whenever I embark on a new project, I start by looking at works that inspire me (movies, paintings, performances, etc.). I find a lot of the answers to the things I’m beginning to ask myself in that movie.

Something similar happened when I was filling out a form for a festival. I was asked to write down three movies that had recently made an impression on me. At that point, I asked myself whether “recently” referred to movies I had seen not too long ago (movies from any era) or whether it only referred to movies that had been made in the past few years. That paralyzed me, because I should have put La obra del siglo by Carlos Machado next to Jeanne Dielman, calle 23 del Comercio, 1080 Bruselas, by Chantal Akerman. For me, time in art isn’t lineal (or vice-versa) but more like Foucault’s idea about history, floating islands. The meeting ground is where all of the clashes that might appear do so (because not all good meetings are pleasant), and depending on our own personal view too.

Where they diverge? Personally-speaking, I like diverse movies. That is to say, that there are many ways to produce and many production companies if I want to look for a way to make a movie. I believe that Cuban film has diversified and become more varied. Of course, not every movie is a quality production, but more people can make, learn and put ideas forward. It has blown Cuban film up like as a closed block, it has projected it to many places across the world. For good? Not so good? I don’t know. But, the global situation is changing, Cuba is changing, film is changing, audiences are changing. Rethinking film, its institutions, its modes of production is much-needed and urgent, for the sake of including every process that come to life naturally, out of the need to continue making cinema.

Like I said, I believe that aesthetic and linguistic breaks correspond more to individual artists than periods of time or generations. However, the way of making film has changed lots of things in our situation: there is more participation, more diversity, collaborative dialogue, other sources of funding, other spaces. And I believe it’s appropriate to think and understand Cuban film from this revitalization.

Do you think young filmmakers today feel like they are being taken into account? Why?

I can only talk about my own personal experience; I can’t speak on behalf of a group or a generation. And it depends on what every person understands by “being taken into account”: having somewhere to put on their films? being invited to a festival? winning an award? receiving funding for their work? Plus, who should be taking a director into account: the audience, institutions, programmers. It’s a very difficult matter.

In my experience, I have been able to carry out both projects I wanted to do. With funding from very different sources such as Cooperativa Producciones, Haciendo Cine, the Young Filmmakers Event, ICAIC, the Norwegian Fund for Cuban Film, Go-Cuba. And especially with all of the team’s willingness and support. To tell you the truth, we did this project because we wanted to, with our will above everything else.

I have screened them at the Chaplin movie theatre and at the 23rd and 12th movie theater, as part of the Young Filmmakers’ Festival. They have been put on TV, programs have been dedicated to me as a filmmaker (even though I have only made two short movies). I have won awards that have really surprised me, such as the Prize for Best Fiction at the Young Filmmakers’ Festival and the Prize for Debut, a really beautiful award.

Several journalists have approached me for an interview, others have told me they study my films, at that point I always doubt what they tell me and give a skeptical look. And more than anything else, I have a team with whom I want to continue trying things out. Right now, we are working on a project which we still don’t know how we’re going to fund. But, I have full confidence in my producer, Ricardo Figueredo, and in the team.

Is it hard to work as a young filmmaker in Cuba? Why?

Yes, of course. The next project is always an incognito, how you’re going to find funding. There are very few platforms that give material support, minimal spaces for grants (only two or three) and lots of people with lots of good projects that need funding. However, something similar happens to me with the platform I coordinate for the theater, the LEES (Drama Lab of Social Experimentation), where the project is always an incognito in terms of production, moreso if you are interested in a varied production, which links different spaces, creators, institutions. It’s difficult to create a piece of work, especially because it’s a personal project, or at best the project of a small community.