Talking Cuba’s Cinema on the Web

Dalia Acosta interviews Juan Antonio García Borrero

Juan Antonio García Borrero
Juan Antonio García Borrero

HAVANA TIMES, August 22 (IPS) – His blog taught him to share apprehensions with people who think differently, to humanize and to become humanized, to benefit from the most heated controversies, and – especially – to demonstrate that one must not consider themself the sole possessor of truth, but only someone desperately in search of it.

“I don’t know who I am; a résumé is only a display of one’s ego in 80 lines. I only know that ‘I blog, therefore I exist,” was all that Cuban intellectual Juan Antonio García Borrero had to say in the introduction to his web log Cine Cubano: La Pupila Insomne (Cuban Cinema: The Insomniac Pupil), a site that has fulfilled its original aim of fomenting a “culture of controversy.”

The idea came out of the electronic debate that occurred in the wake of a January 6, 2007 broadcast on Cuban state television that praised the “contributions” to Cuban culture made by Luis Pavón, an official tied to the censorship of cultural works, artists and intellectuals in the 1970s.

The site seeks to speak about Cuban cinema with a comprehensive look that includes not only the official line but also alternative viewpoints, as well as ones from abroad. It seeks to recover the story from the inside and out, from those who live in Cuba, but also from those who for decades have worked in the most divergent of countries.

Now, two years later, beyond “re-thinking” history, La Pupila Insomne has become a space for discussion and debate over the most diverse issues related to cinema, going beyond politics and delving deep into the works of “young creators” and in the existence or not of a youth perspective.

IPS: What were your expectations when the blog began, and what do you think it has become?

JAGB: I started the blog as a result of the controversies related to the reappearance of Pavón on Cuban television.  I was in Spain at the time on a Fundación Carolina scholarship, and the Cuban blogosphere at that time was showing great vitality.

In reality, I never thought it would last more than six months, and in fact I closed it for a time. My intention was to propose a site where one could speak about Cuban cinema with a much broader group perspective than the one that associates the history of Cuban cinema to the history of ICAIC (the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry – born after the 1959 revolution).

Those expectations have been amply surpassed, especially with the recent participation of film directors and producers – many of them residing outside of the island.  It has enriched views that we had about Cuban cinema.

IPS: What role do you think this “other” form of communication is playing in today’s Cuba?

JAGB: I believe it’s helping to raise awareness of the precariousness of our public sphere.

Juan Antonio García Borrero
Juan Antonio García Borrero

That’s to say, we’ve always been quite critical of those inadequacies, but now it has become so evident that I don’t think an adjustment can be deferred.  We can’t live with our backs turned on the world, much less in this time where everything seems to be connected.  From my point of view, the correct thing would be to establish a critical relationship with this new phenomenon.

IPS: Despite the limitations to Internet access in a country where home connections are practically non-existent, what real reach do you believe you can have with this type of initiative?

JAGB: Internet access in Cuba is a real problem, but it’s not that people can’t access it.  For intellectuals there are authorized entries.  Members of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), for example, have opportunities to navigate.  The problem is of another nature.

I think that it still hasn’t been internalized that we’re living in another time.  The process of becoming computer literate began only recently among us, though a literary tradition continues prevailing in all our work.

The same thing exists in terms of knowledge production as well as consumption. Given that, it’s not strange that terms like “blogosphere” are so non-stimulating to Cuban critics, and that approaches continue to be confined to the traditional media (television, the press).

At the personal level, I have tried to put into practice what I call “blogmail,” where I circulate particular blog entries among a group of interested people. This has worked out well because it has generated interesting discussions around youth cinema or the “invisible occupations.”

IPS: What contributions do you think the blog has made to the current debate within intellectual and artistic circles on issues such as cultural policy and the role of the intellectual in current Cuban society?

JAGB: The truth is that it would sound too pretentious to affirm that there have been contributions if at this stage in the blog the contributions of many people have gone unnoticed.

Juan Antonio García Borrero
Juan Antonio García Borrero

I have insisted that this is an independent site where what matters is Cuban cinema in general. That’s why we can find the same discussions on the last production by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) alongside movies produced by Cubans who don’t live in Cuba.

I’ve been quite surprised that civilized dialogue has predominated so far; though that doesn’t mean sharp comments haven’t been made.  I think the main contribution of the blog is that it has moved in that direction.  This not only demonstrates that there’s an eagerness to “think” about Cuban cinema, and that it’s also possible to do it in a systematic way.

IPS: In a country where the media is the property of the State, and even the use of the Internet is severely limited, what reception has La Pupila Insomne had in the official as well as the artistic and intellectual media?

JAGB: “Officially” I have no idea.  I have received neither comments in favor nor against it. To the margin of this, the blog continues functioning, as demonstrated by the numerous contributions of Cuban creators such as Jorge Pucheux, Mario Crespo, and Marina Ochoa.

This might have been enough to justify the hosting of the blog on some Cuban web page, but so far this hasn’t happened.  In any case, I have had the support of exemplary Cuban intellectuals, those both on and off the island.

The main thing, I think, is to continue stimulating participation – especially that of film directors – because this will allow us to obtain a clearer idea of what has been happening in Cuba.

Up to now, critics and historians have almost always written the history of Cuban cinema from the vantage point of what is seen on the screen.  However, the original history – the murkiest history, the one that is at the foundation of all movies – has remained in the shadows.

It’s time that we all defend the historical memory of this activity, and the memory of those who have been involved with it.

A Havana Times translation of the original article published in Spanish by IPS.