How Can You Make a Movie with US $20?

By Darcy Borrero  (El Toque) 

Cast from Temporal. Photo: Courtesy of Interviewee

HAVANA TIMES – The man smokes one cigarette after another, he joins the ashes of one with the smoke of another. He doesn’t stop talking. His name is Demian Rabilero and he was in different prisons in Santiago de Cuba for five years (he was a lawyer charged with bribery/corruption).

When he got out of jail, in 2003, he found that he didn’t have many friends left on the city’s streets and these “disappearances” led him to come up with the idea for a film: Temporal (2006). Here, he shares his recipe for making a movie with just 20 USD.

“Temporal is a debt and I am very sensitive. I got out of prison in 2003 and everybody was leaving. There were very few of us left from my generation. And while I was working at the Office of the City’s Curator, this idea was floating around in my head and I had to find a way to deal with the feeling I had when all my friends were leaving, which was very dramatic at that time. It wasn’t like now when people can come and go because they have an exit permit, back then, you left for good. It’s still tough, but not like it was in the ‘90s, that’s why I made the short movie. It was my way of resolving this inner conflict,” Demian says.

But, there was something else that needed to be resolved. There wasn’t any money, which is normal in a country where Memories of Underdevelopment continue. How do you convince four or five women, plus three men, to strip down in front of the camera and perform what you ask them to? How do you convince two men to appear in a sex scene in the opening shot? How do you convince them to smoke marihuana while you’re shooting them? How do you convince the authorities to show a movie with these characteristics?

Temporal movie poster. Director Demian Rabilero.

It would seem that Demian has no creative limits: he himself made the movie poster and put up a giant poster in the city. “I scheduled it for June 2006. This forced me to finish it and to get lots of people involved, to contribute to the movie without being paid. We only had 20 USD,” he says between puffs and takes another drag on his cigarette.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself what he spent that money on. And you’re wrong if you think that he spent it on paying actors, or a photographer, or an editor, or maybe a sound engineer or a designer. He didn’t pay for any expertise. He spent that money on the absolute basic: food.

This man has power of persuasion and he knows it. And he cashes it on it. This is how he explains everyone did what he asked them to, in exchange for lunch and personal satisfaction.

“And censorship?”

“Everything is a question of context,” Demian clarifies. “The director of the Santiago’s Provincial Film Center at that time was Jose Antonio Estrada, a filmmaker, and he even called his advisory council and we drew up screenings for the movie. The council said that they liked it but that it wasn’t for the general public, but rather to be seen in private spaces. Estrada thanked them for their opinion and said that he, as the director, had decided to screen it.”

“But, what were they not going to let them see?”

“Beyond the nudity and some innocent political comments it makes, Temporal isn’t only about physical extermination, but also about the spiritual destruction of my generation, the pioneers who were born in the ‘70s (we aren’t even a generation because, like a poet once said, it’s the most anti-generation that ever existed).

Backstage shots of the movie Temporal. Photo: Courtesy of Interviewee

“And the disappearances, why the dreamlike take on it?

“There is a woman who likes to read my poems, her name is Branca Novoneyra, and she put it perfectly into words. “Temporal is like one of your poems,” she told me. And that’s exactly what it is, she saw it as a cinematographic poem. There are people who misinterpret it because they are trying to find logic in the movie’s narrative; but in this experimental take, I was interested in the overlap of different narratives (between documentary and fiction). And it was striking because there were some people who believed that the story was real, who believed the sex scenes were real. Plus, it was 2006 and seeing two guys going at it on screen, from the opening scene, was shocking. Now it’s normal, but in 2006 it was …

“Nevertheless, in the short movie there is an interest in portraying groups, associated with the tribal…”

“Yes, in terms of groups of friends, partners.”

“How did the group and audience react generally-speaking?”

“Many people from my generation called to tell me that they really liked the movie. Even Carlitos Barba, who saw a poor version at home, he called me… and many other people who you wouldn’t think would see this kind of movie.

Five cigarette’s worth of conversation in front of a pair of blue eyes who have seen the inside of a jail cell. Now, those eyes are roaming Santiago’s streets freely, ever so freely, that they seem to be the eyes of a tourist. A tourist who was once a former inmate who was able to make a movie with 20 USD. But now Demian, as if nothing had happened, has just got a job as the principal Specialist at Santiago de Cuba’s Image Museum. Not bad, right? If this man could make Temporal with 20 USD, what will he be able to do now?