By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES — As a result of the decisions recently made by Cuban cultural institutions, along with the Cuban government, to censor the films Santa y Andres by Carlos Lechuga and the documentary Nadie by Miguel Coyula, a worrying phenomenon has come about.
For over a decade now, independent films have been made outside the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), which used to be the ruling body for film production on the island.
As part of its strategy to give visibility to these independent movies, or simply because they wanted to attract young filmmakers to the industry, the Cuban Young Filmmakers’ event was created, which is today the ICAIC Young Filmmakers Showing.
This festival allows independent filmmakers who are under the age of 35 to compete and screen their movies in a cinema. However, my first question is, what is an independent filmmaker who is older than this supposed to do? Where can they exhibit their work, if they continue to be independent?
Given the fact that reality is designed so we get tired and we have no other alternative but to leave Cuba, it’s likely that this has made our institutions’ lives easier, making them feel like they have absolute freedom to censor works including places to exhibit them, even those of independent filmmakers who owe them absolutely nothing. Despite the censorship at home, many of these productions manage to participate in international events, thereby opening up the way for themselves.
The defense undertaken by Claudia Calvino and Carlos Lechuga (Santa y Andres) in their dialogue with Cuban cultural institutions, in order for them to be allowed to compete in the Havana International Film Festival, which took place in December 2016, and the later censorship of the film, which would then go on to be screened at the Havana Film Festival in New York. This further exposed the need to recognize the existence of a movement that is shouting loud and clear for its own legitimization.
Stopping independent films from appearing in Cuba film catalogues, silencing filmmakers, creating negative critiques about works and their directors, have all been strategies of the government to exercise its control and censorship over them.
For those of us who never experienced the happiness which 1959 meant to the majority of Cubans, we are only left with are terms and concepts which are described as semantic issues. Those from before talk about revolution, while this is government for us, and where there were revolutionaries, there are now only politicians. So much so that the word counter-revolutionary is just a leftover from a revolution which only survives in the past.
The Cuban Revolution was just a moment, then the lives of all Cubans became consumed in that moment. Fidel Castro’s speeches in the early years of his time in power would probably be censored today, as this past has nothing to do with our present, and therefore you could argue that the word “revolution”, in this context, is a hijacked term for a group of people who only want to remain in power.
Maybe some part of the world needs the Cuban Revolution, the dreamers, progressives, those who believe in utopias, and admire this island, which they see as a stronghold of resistance and anti-Imperialism.
The Cuban government has demonized the Cuban opposition for a long time, accusing it of receiving money from the “enemy” and thereby serving Imperialism’s interests.
I want to reflect upon an event which goes beyond the method used up until today with independent filmmakers and which leads us to to doubt whether all the opposition is what the government tells us it is, or whether they strategically put them all in the same bag.
On Saturday April 15th, the screening of the documentary “Nadie” (Nobody) had been organized at the El Circulo Home Gallery, a space led by independent artists and activists, Lia Villares and Luis Trapaga, who are based out of their own home, like the name so well implies.
Months beforehand, on December 8th 2016, the movie made its debut with the presence of poet Rafael Alcides, the lead in Nadie, and a debate at the end of the screening where around 70 people showed up to see it.
This time, Cuban State Security forces and the police stopped this documentary from being screened again, closing off streets between the streets so that you couldn’t access the house or the block located on 10th, between 13th and 15th Streets in the capital city’s Vedado neighborhood. They gave a vague excuse that they were carrying out a Police operation.
Gradually, we found out that nobody could reach the screening of Nadie, which seems ironic, as all of us were victim to the arbitrary action and some guests even said that they had been told that they were victims of a trap that had been set up by some counter-revolutionaries.
So, who were the authorities calling counter-revolutionaries? The owners of the house? Those who participated in the event? Filmmakers? Me? Miguel Coyula has expressed the importance of being independent not only economically-speaking, but also in content and form, on several occasions.
That same night, Michel Matos, the director of the independent cultural promoter Matraka, and the former organizer of the alternative Rotilla music festival, “kidnapped” by Cuban authorities in 2011, was the victim of intimidation when he was on his way to the screening.
Oscar Casanella, a bio-chemist and intellectual who used to dedicate himself to his scientific work at Havana’s Cancer Hospital, who was interrogated, intimidated and fired by Lorenzo Anasagasti, the director of this institution, just because he was friends with Ciro Javier Diaz Penedo, one of the leaders of the independent Punk band, Porno para Ricardo. He was one of the people who also collaborated on organizing the documentary screening.
So, who are the good guys? Or, who are the bad guys? It’s clear that the government doesn’t want institutionalized artists or intellectuals close to them, out of their fear that they might infect others with their intelligence, freedom of speech and courage.
In late 2015, the G-20 group of Cuban filmmakers, who were demanding the creation of a Film Industry Law, met at the Fresa and Chocolate Cinema which belongs to ICAIC, to protest against state censorship. At one point in the meeting, an ICAIC official tried to kick out Eliecer Avila, the leader of the Somos Mas Party, Luz Escobar, an independent journalist, and Angel Santiesteban, a writer and activist, who were taking part in the event. However, the event organizers didn’t allow it, so filmmakers and “counter-revolutionaries” remained until the very end of the meeting, sharing the same institutional space.
Three days later, a one-sided statement appeared in the official Granma newspaper, signed by the president of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), ICAIC and the Ministry of Culture, warning about mixing counter-revolutionaries with filmmakers, which led to us never hearing of the G-20 again, as it was disbanded.
Professional conscience can’t manifest itself within a Cuban institution, but outside of it, where art can really survive. Therefore, taking into account the fact that in the Cuba of today, he who was once a revolutionary, is now a politician and independent artists who seek truly revolutionary art have to ask themselves, can you be revolutionary and be institutionalized at the same time?