By Francisco Acevedo
HAVANA TIMES – In late July, we published an article here about the commotion stirred when a documentary starring Argentinian singer-songwriter Fito Paez was censored and manipulated.
The biased screening of the film before it was finished, directed by Cuban filmmaker Juan Pin Vilar, sparked protests from his colleagues and other celebrities directly or indirectly linked to the world of film and even Paez himself seemed fed up of defending the indefensible.
This seems to have been the last straw for filmmakers patience, adding to the never-ending wait for a Film Act, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) presidents’ poor management, the ban on recording or filming official meetings and unmet expectations after that sit-in in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020.
All of this led to the – independent – creation of the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers (ACC) in June, with board members including film director Fernando Perez, the most important living filmmaker in Cuba; Luis Alberto Garcia, the most iconic actor; and the intellectual Gustavo Arcos, whose speech at a meeting of artists about the censorship of this documentary was also covered in an article published here.
Soon after the commotion – we’re talking mid-July -, the Government announced the creation of a Temporary Working Group to deal with film issues, the traditional way of taking responsibility for problems in different areas, with representatives from Ministries involved and “cadres” at every level.
However, this week, the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers complained about all of the outrages it had suffered since it was founded, and how every one of its initiatives has been blocked.
In a statement posted on social media, the brand-new organization pointed out that problems began ever since they’d announced that they would try and meet in early September (initially the 15th), as they didn’t have a space to hold this meeting, and they were stopped from placing flowers on filmmaker Nicolas Guillen Landrian’s grave, in the neighboring Colon Cemetery, using every channel available.
A request was made with ICAIC to hold the Assembly of Filmmakers at the movie theater on 23rd and 12th Streets, or a similar space, two weeks in advance. The response came so late that they had to seek out other alternatives, as filmmakers from other provinces were going to take part in the conclave and needed to plan their journey to Havana in advance.
First, they were told that it couldn’t be held on the 15th because the G77+China Summit was going to take place in the Cuban capital, and it was postponed to the 20th. However, the Ministry of Culture summoned a large group of filmmakers together on the 15th to this very movie theater, to discuss digital payment methods in the artistic sector. Nobody from the ACC’s Group of Representatives was invited, but four went of their own accord and took the floor during this meeting.
At the end of this meeting, they were informed they could use the movie theater on September 20th, and they made the most of this opportunity to ask when the next Temporary Working Group’s meeting would be. But, according to ICAIC’s two vice-presidents (Roberto Smith and Ariel Montenegro), they didn’t know when it would be exactly because they aren’t responsible for sending invites to these meetings. It just so happened that the Temporary Working Group’s fourth meeting took place on September 19th, and rebellious filmmakers weren’t present either.
The Assembly of Filmmakers finally did take place, but the Internet connection was “inexplicably” cut, so several members who were online in the meeting and taking part remotely because they were in the country’s interior, and even from different countries, lost all contact with what was happening.
According to social media posts by those present in the Assembly, the Internet worked fine in the movie theater’s surroundings, but it cut out constantly as soon as you stepped into the movie theater.
ACC members also complained that a small group of students from the Film Department who wanted to take part in the Assembly, were coerced not to take the floor by youth leaders from their university.
Once the Assembly came to an end, it was time to make the pilgrimage to the grave of the National Poet’s nephew, alongside his widow, Gretel Alfonso, who was also pressured in every way possible to desist from the tribute, which needed prior permission, according to the provincial Government.
They only allowed 15 people to take part, but once they reached the cemetery, an official demanded Alfonso show her the property documents, and because the grave was private, they couldn’t go to it. The widow didn’t give in and finally managed to finish her tribute – in silence – not without everything first being recorded by plainclothes State Security agents.
Filmmakers complained about all of this on their social media accounts, of course, blaming the Government of wanting to silence and cancel their meetings. “When will we stop letting the absurd and disrespect rule our lives?” the complaint ended.
The repressive state apparatus knows all too well the power of intellectuals and their mobilizing force, and even though I personally believe they don’t want to go beyond their specific field, they are spreading panic for speaking out as a sign of rebelliousness. The slogan “Cuban film will be free, or it won’t exist” alone is too challenging to be tolerated by a totalitarian regime, but being put down since that historic sit-in has made them lose their patience.
The iconic figures leading the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers are the ones who have stopped more severe reprisals from being taken… up until now.