Words to Cuban Filmmakers

“Freedom is every person’s right to be honest and to think and speak without hypocrisy.” – Jose Marti

By Lynn Cruz

HAVANA TIMES — While the 37th Havana Film Festival is underway in Cuba (Dec. 3-13), the island’s filmmakers continue to debate important issues related to the future of the industry and its relationship to government authorities.

This past November 28, Havana saw a meeting of the G20, a group of filmmakers who defend the legitimation of independent production companies and demand the approval of a film law. The venue of this group’s gatherings is the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, belonging to the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC). This time around, the issue under debate was censorship.

The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the “Cremata case” (as the censorship of the filmmaker’s stage play is known in the sector) was analyzed at this venue, where ICAIC president Roberto Smith was present, as the incident involving Juan Carlos Cremata’s play El rey se muere (“The King is Dying”) has nothing to do with ICAIC.

The play was censored on July 6 by Gisela Gonzalez, chair of the National Performing Arts Council (CNAE), who accused the director of having mocked Fidel Castro. The decision denied Cremata the right to stage another play in Cuba.

As the majority of Cuban stage play directors opted to remain silent on this decision, film directors decided to speak out in defense of Cremata, who is also a film director.

Filmmaker and stage play director Juan Carlos Cremata

This may be due to the fact the filmmakers enjoy greater freedom, as many of them no longer rely on ICAIC to produce their works. It is also possible that, unconsciously, they regard the CNAE and ICAIC as similar State institutions and that the issue can be debated with either of them.

In Sabado plural y reflexivo (“A Plural and Thought-Provoking Saturday”), Arturo Arango summarizes what took place at this last gathering: “Cuban culture and revolution, Smith recognized, may have different meanings for those of us who have gathered here. Among us are filmmakers from different generations and with different backgrounds. We are faced with the same reality, but our points of view may be different, contradictory and even antagonistic. Diversity should not divide us.”

So far, it would seem the debate went smoothly. But journalist Luz Escobar, who writes for the independent online newspaper 14ymedio, published an article (“Filmmakers Mobilize Against Censorship”) which describes an incident that should make Smith swallow his words: “The meeting had its tensest moment when an official from the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC) tried to remove opposition activist Eliecer Avila, who had attended the public meeting, from the premises.”

In his analysis of the meeting, Arango describes the incident thusly: “Minutes before the meeting ended, an incident which sensationalists are sure to divulge widely interrupted the natural flow of the gathering. In this account, I prefer to focus on the essentials: the ideas that were expounded on there.”

According to this communiqué, Eliecer Avila’s presence did not paralyze the filmmakers’ meeting or make them lose the aim of the gathering from sight.

The Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) building.  Photo: uneac.org.cu

That said, in its December 5 edition, Granma’s culture section published an article by Amelia Duarte de la Rosa which also refers to this incident: “Journalist Magda Reski, the head of the Media Commission, read a declaration issued by the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC) which condemns the counterrevolutionary attempts to distort the work that Cuban independent and ICAIC filmmakers have jointly undertaken to address problems affecting the film sector, including the legal measures that will encourage the sector’s development.”

The truth of the matter is that filmmakers have been waiting for years for an answer to their demand that a film law be established. The purpose of this last meeting was to address the issue of censorship, a fact Granma fails to mention altogether.

The G20 arose spontaneously. With discipline, this group has invited ICAIC officials to take part in its debates and to act as a mediator, given the fact they have been unable to enter into a direct exchange with other institutions that could offer a concrete response.

It’s clear the space chosen by the filmmakers has made them fall into the trap of believing they control the destiny of their meetings. An element that proved disruptive for the officials who had gathered there, the presence of Eliecer Avila, unmasked the fictitious nature of the spontaneity and plural exchange alleged.

The same intolerance that was condemned in connection with the “Cremata case” put an end to the gathering and, this way, the same censorship condemned was itself censored.

Later in the article, Duarte de la Rosa writes that “Miguel Barnet stated: ‘we are angered by the situation that arose last Saturday. I believe our council must express support for revolutionary institutions and artists. We cannot allow the counterrevolution to mingle with our artists in the space of freedom and exchange created by the cultural policies of the revolution following Fidel’s Words to Intellectuals.’”

“Words to the intelectuals” by Fidel Castro

It seems the council Barnet defends holds that mincing one’s words and agreeing with politicians makes one a revolutionary artist. At the last congress of the Cuban Writers and Artists Federation (UNEAC), members refused to speak of the Film law. Similarly, UNEAC has not shown the G20 any support since it began to hold meetings.

If it’s a question of telling the story like it is, there are more than enough examples of artists and intellectuals who have been silenced. In fact, Barnet himself was once put in an uncomfortable situation and silenced.

Arango concludes his article quoting film critic and journalist Dean Luis Reyes: “Today’s cinema already announces the society of tomorrow, even in its disagreement with decision-makers, or in its refusal to offer us the image of a country that no longer exists, to reveal a universe of broadened relations and constant change that does not abide by a single doctrine or a uniform cinema.”

We live in an increasingly unequal and complex society. The changes brought about by the government make the distance between the official discourse and reality more and more patent. Through its Party Guidelines, the government set in motion criticisms and the possibility of expressing discontent, but it is clear such possibilities are regulated by the limits established by this government.

One of the most severely criticized aspects of Cremata’s protest have been his interviews with media of “dubious interests.” Within the theater sector, Cremata has been told he should have made his points in the official Cubadebate and not in media that “launch campaigns against the government.”

It makes no difference where one expresses the truth. The fact is that politicians do not like art because they fear it. The censorship of Cremata’s play is nothing other than an expression of fear – fear that Cuban intellectuals are finally starting to name problems and the people responsible for them.

One thought on “Words to Cuban Filmmakers

  • That the Castros are afraid is not news. Castro sycophants who comment here at Havana Times reflect these same fears when they deflect in their remarks. Rather than address the truths expressed in the posts, they turn to criticism of the US. What is news is what are they afraid of? If socialism is good, then why has totalitarianism always been the outcome of socialist politics?

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