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Just how good is Cuban cinema today?

Just how good is Cuban cinema today?

It is possible that there will be critics and filmmakers who would differ about this parity and, no doubt, they would have their reasons for doing so, such as the precarious technology of the Cuban film industry, the lack of resources, small annual production figures, commitments requiring co-productions, the ostensible deterioration of movie theatres many of which have been shut down or converted to other uses…But as we glance over the productions made between 2001 and 2014 now closing, the panorama shows itself less bleak than one would imagine.

The first thing that demands our attention is the feature-length debuts of new filmmakers who are enriching films with fresh outlooks and ideas. There are such remarkable films as Juan Carlos Cremata’s Nada (2001) and Viva Cuba (2004), Pavel Giroud’s La edad de la peseta (2006), Alejandro Brugués’ Personal Belongings (2008) and Juan de los muertos (2011), Ian Padrón’s Fuera de liga (2008) and Habanastation (2011), Ernesto Daranas’ Los dioses rotos (2009) and Conducta (2014), Lester Hamlet’s Casa vieja (2010), Charlie Medina’s Penumbras (2012) and Carlos Lechuga’s Melaza (2013). If we add to that body of work the fiction shorts and the almost underground documentaries that are off the commercial circuits and TV, to be seen every year at the New Filmmakers’ Show and circulating informally, we have to admit that the rebirth of Cuban cinema is a fact even though it does not bring with it a realistic remodeling of the institutional production and distribution structures and often has to rely on more or less “independent” channels.

As for the more veteran directors, they haven’t just been standing around and twiddling their thumbs, waiting placidly for their replacements. Fernando Pérez, the most important Cuban director today, has given birth in these first decades of the new century to two of his most relevant and moving productions: Suite Habana (2003) and El ojo del canario (2010). Enrique Pineda Barnet emerged from a long twenty-year hiatus with La anunciación (2009) and the controversial Verde verde (2012). Gerardo Chijona finished Perfecto amor equivocado (2004), the heart-wrenching Boleto al paraíso (2011) and Esther en alguna parte (2012). And Rogelio París released the highly publicized but insignificant Kangamba (2008), Humberto Solás, one of the icons of the 1960s made his last film Barrio Cuba (2005) to partial success without reaching the heights of his emblematic Lucía or Un hombre de éxito, Manuel Pérez gave us his visceral Páginas del diario de Mauricio (2006), Juan Carlos Tabío sat at the apex of popularity with his ironic El cuerno de la abundancia (2009) while Daniel Díaz Torres closed his filmography with La película de Ana (2012), one of the best of his career.

With all this work by veterans and beginners, new subjects made their appearance on the big screen, new problems and concerns were being shown in Cuban films: marginality (Conducta, Chamaco, Habanastation), disillusionment (Páginas del diario de Mauricio, Boleto al paraíso, Penumbras, El cuerno de la abundancia), homoeroticism and homophobia (Verde verde), the drama of emigration (Nada, Personal Belongings, Viva Cuba, La anunciación, Casa vieja), material precariousness (Suite Habana, Melaza, Barrio Cuba), explicit eroticism (Afinidades) and prostitution (La película de Ana, Los dioses rotos). There was an outbreak of adaptations of theatrical plays (El premio flaco, Casa vieja, Chamaco, Penumbras, Si vas a comer espera por Virgilio, Contigo pan y cebolla) along with revitalization of the documentary, the legitimization of new actors and the arrival of new technical personnel ready to take on the challenge of changing technologies. The first Cuban zombie movie was made (Juan de los muertos), the first Cuban science-fiction movie (Omega 3), the first Cuban 3D graphics movie (Meñique) and the first independent productions (Mañana, Melaza, Juan de los Muertos) far away from those distant years when the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) was founded. Several important events were founded in this decade: the Santiago Álvarez In Memoriam International Documentary Film Festival (2000), the New Filmmakers’ Show (2001) and the International Low-Budget Film Festival of Gibara (2003). And in opposition to some pessimistic forecasts, the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema continued to breathe life.
The announced premieres of La pared de las palabras (Fernando Pérez, for the first time affiliated with the independent Santa Fe Producciones), Leontina (Rudy Mora), Fátima (Jorge Perugorría), Venecia (Enrique Álvarez) and Vestido de novia (Marilyn Solaya) promises a good harvest for 2015. So, in answer to our opening question, we would answer “neither better nor worse, Cuban cinema is—true to the times—different.” Descember 2014 This article formed part of the descember 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.

What’s On Havana What’s On La Habana What’s On La Havane Descember, 2014
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