Crisis at Cuba’s Famous Film School?

Fernando Ravsberg

Academic director Geronimo Labrada assures that the film school is not in danger of institutional “collapse.” Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 30 — The International Film School of Cuba is wounded but not dead, explained its academic director, Geronimo Labrada, to BBC Mundo. He added, “We don’t explain ourselves well and some people understood even worse.”

The alarm was triggered by a letter written by the school’s current director, Rafael Rosal, who affirmed that the educational institution was “on the verge of collapse” and urgently needed help “to halt the deterioration of its infrastructure.”

Labrada explained that the school is experiencing concrete problems — especially with transportation, building maintenance and equipment renovation — but that there was no imminent danger of institutional collapse occurring.

In a tour of the facilities, we found that classes are continuing and that the dorms are being repaired, though some students confirm some deterioration in living conditions in comparison to previous years.

A good academic level

“We’re not close to a collapse, not even a crisis. This is the only film school in the world with a staff of 300 professors from around the world – from Australia, India, the US, France, England and Latin America,” explained Labrada.

He added, “At this school, classes and workshops have been and are being taught by people such as its founder, the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Robert Redford, Luckas, Coppola, Spielberg and many other filmmakers from around the world.”

The students we spoke to agreed with Labrada. “In the academic field, no crisis is being felt, the professors have continued coming, despite the costs this means to the school,” said Antonio Caro of Chile.

The school has graduated 750 students, and currently 109 young people from 25 countries are studying there. Photo: Raquel Perez

Nevertheless, Labrada accepts the existence of substantial problems. The buses are run down, the buildings need repair, more space needs to be built to increase the number of workshops, and it’s essential that our equipment be updated.

The school’s administration is seeking financial donations to overcome these problems, particularly from private aid organizations. In addition, they’re hoping that the countries of origin of the foreign students will contribute by providing them scholarships.

Affordable tuition

Since its founding in 1986, 750 filmmakers have graduated. The current enrollment in the three levels consists of 109 youth from 25 countries. We were told that some governments from African countries, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Venezuela have awarded scholarships.

The school began as an initiative to train Latin American filmmakers for free, but during the crisis of the 90s the institution began to charge for admission to ease the burden on the Cuban government, which funds a third of the school’s budget.

“For academic training, accommodation and food over a three year period, we charge 15,000 euros,” said Labrada. He added, however, “We don’t like it because it prevents the enrollment of many poor students with talent for the cinema.”

Antonio Caro admitted that “for this amount money I would never have been able to study this career anywhere else in the world, especially because they include food and lodging. In Chile I probably wouldn’t have even been able to afford the tuition alone.”


The school management maintains that the housing problem is one of the most complex issues, though repairs are being carried out. Photo: Raquel Perez

New times

The full cost for each student is 41,000 euros – part of which is funded by the tuition they pay, another significant sum comes from the over 40 international workshops organized every year, and the balance is funded by the Cuban government.

The new economic approach being adopted by the island also involves changes to the International Film School. As student Antonio Caro told the BBC, “From here inside, you can note that the economic situation has worsened.”

“I was just informed that our outside medical consultations will have to have to be paid for. Plus there are difficulties in getting food, and our graduating projects can no longer be filmed in 35 mm, which was always the tradition,” said the young Chilean.

Possibly the word “collapse” was exaggerated or misinterpreted, but the truth is that the International Film School of Cuba is in need of funding sources that will allow it to adapt to the new times being experienced by this host country.