By Alfredo Prieto
HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 1 – With the backdrop of the dismantling of the Soviet bloc and its impact on the island, in the 90s Cuban film production from the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) ceased being the only vehicle through which Cubans would have access to their own images on the screen.
Beginning with the entry into the country of new democratizing film-making technology, as well as with logistical-financial support from NGOs, several foreign entities and island-based cultural institutions began to devise non-traditional ways of producing cinema. Moreover, they focused on Cuba’s internal crisis and the country’s new expressions of identity.
Their works -artistically unequal, as always- were, and still are, able to document changes and emerging social actors in a way which only in appearances breaks with the veteran filmmakers who once grouped around ICAIC.
What’s coming out today actually maintains a close connection with the work of the older cinematographers, despite the earlier films being mainly introspective.
The thematic framework of the new artistry is broad and varied. In the accomplishments of these younger directors, born in the 70s and 80s, the desire to structure cinema rooted in their own circumstances is evidenced; this aim constitutes a significant amount of the audiovisual recollections of those difficult times and challenges.
These youth, looking more like Cuban rappers than young poets, wander through the streets where their individual and existential anguish reign. While iconoclasts, they possess one conventional outlook: they are not handcuffed by taboos or prohibitions when it comes time to focus attention on social problems that are usually buried under a mantel of silence.
They conceive of the cinema not only in terms of its discursive capability, but also as a cognitive vehicle – two categories that coexist with the same naturalness as the systole and the diastole.
Indeed, what unifies Humberto Padrón’s “Video de Familia” (2001) and “Buscándote Havana” (2007), by Alina Abreu, is precisely the incursion of difficult and unresolved realities of today’s Cuba.
In the first case, this film uses the “basic unit” of the family as a springboard to discuss matters ranging from intolerance of “otherness,” machismo, and racism, to the issues of emigration to help one’s family and the father’s power as an authoritarian figure. This exercise proves as valuable as solid sociological research.
In the second, a documentary on emigration within Cuba, people are shown having ventured from the eastern provinces to the capital in search of better lives. They end up, however, in “ciudadelas” (housing projects) or a “llega-y-pon” (shanty), where they lack certain basic rights – a situation that socialism must solve if it’s really the hope for humanity.
The recent exhibition by young producers in the city of Guantanamo, one of the cities furthest from Havana, constituted a fitting moment to put their communicative effectiveness to the test.
The presentation was a summary of their ample work -the event lasted three days- starting from the healthy perspective of heterogeneity, since documentaries as well as short fiction and even cartoons were exhibited.
The greatest applause was for Arturo Infante’s “Utopia” (2006), a criticism of the uncritical promotion of mass culture, which appeals to elements of absurdity while contrasting reality with desire. Likewise, “Existen” (2005) by Esteban Insausti, reflected on disturbed and paranoiac visions of the world exposed by its main characters: three or four lunatics who take daily strolls through several locales of the Havana metropolis.
Not a single yawn was seen in the theater; the silence was like a knife cutting the air, evidence that the new productions have placed their fingers squarely on the wound.
Don’t forget: Intelligence is everywhere in Cuba, even in the snout of the caiman, where Guantanamo is located.