Cuban independent cinema, facing a time of change

Latin America and the Caribbean, Democracy and Politics, Highlights, The chosen ones of the writing, Freedom of expression, Civil society, Last News

Filmmaker Enrique (Kiki) Álvarez, one of the pioneers in independent filmmaking in Cuba, believes that the new Film Promotion Fund could generate a renaissance for local cinematography, while advocating for the approval in the country of a Cinema Law. In the image, the director during his interview with IPS. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

HAVANA, Sep 30 2020 (IPS) – After decades of struggles, dialogues and resistance, the Cuban independent film movement is going through a complex moment, faced with the effects of covid-19 and expectations about how the first internal rule that recognizes it through a registry will work.

“The pandemic brought an almost total paralysis of audiovisual development, as most movie theaters have been closed since March. There are also many difficulties of movement at the national level, and recently in Havana to make a film, ”Gustavo Arcos, a researcher and film critic, told IPS.

With economic and diffusion impacts similar to the rest of the world, the health emergency came at a decisive moment for the Cuban audiovisual union, when the first registry of autonomous filmmakers was put into practice.

So much so that the first call to the state Fund for the Promotion of Cuban Cinema was launched in July.

The regulations in implementation sought to respond to old claims of this thriving sector within Cuban civil society, which persists in defending its autonomy and artistic freedom in a context of centralization of activity.

According to public figures, until June the Registry of the Independent Audiovisual and Cinematographic Creator had just over 1,800 registered, with a strong presence of those under 35 years of age and residents in the provinces and not in the capital.

“Until December it will not be known which projects will benefit from the Fund. And we also have to wait to find out in what way the decree has favored the filmmakers or not: we have only gone through one stage of the new atmosphere or spectrum of audiovisual creation in Cuba ”, stated Arcos.

Decree Law 373 of the Independent Audiovisual and Cinematographic Creator was published in June 2019 along with 13 other resolutions to implement it, including the Fund.

It was received in different ways by the artistic guild, which saw in the new norm from the official recognition of creation outside state institutions to another form of regulation.

While a part of the sector continues to advocate for a Cinema Law, the decree recognized a creative segment that is growing despite difficulties, especially in the last 20 years, although independent filmmakers have been reported long before thanks to mass technologies such as films. video and then the digital age.

The norm defines the creator of cinema and television as an economic actor who has legal representation, benefits from social security and can access bank accounts, be hired and hire Cuban and foreign natural legal persons. It allows individual and group registrations.

But the decree law also defines the state Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Acaic) as “the governing body of audiovisual and cinematographic activity, for this it encourages and controls the production, distribution, exhibition, promotion, commercialization and conservation of cinema” .

In this sense, it specifies that it must do so “in close relationship with independent audiovisual and cinematographic creators; attending to artistic criteria framed in the Cuban cultural tradition and in the aims of the Revolution that makes it possible and guarantees the climate of creative freedom ”.

A group of moviegoers waits to enter the Charles Chaplin movie theater, of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Icaic), during an edition in previous years of the Young Film Festival.  The covid-19 pandemic this year has prevented the celebration of many local and international festivals that host Havana and other cities in Cuba.  Photo: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

A group of moviegoers waits to enter the Charles Chaplin movie theater, of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Icaic), during an edition in previous years of the Young Film Festival. The covid-19 pandemic this year has prevented the celebration of many local and international festivals that host Havana and other cities in Cuba. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Filmmakers consulted by IPS shared their perceptions and expectations so far, ranging from hope for the revival of Cuban cinema to skepticism over decades of unauthorized works and authors, along with contradictions between the decree law and the philosophy of being independent.

“The way the new rules could influence the most is related to the Fund,” said filmmaker Enrique (Kiki) Álvarez, one of the pioneers in autonomous production. “The Fund could create a renaissance in Cuban cinema, with many people making works and recovering a cultural climate around Cuban cinema,” he said.

Director of feature films such as La ola (1995) and Marina (2011), Álvarez advocates for a Film Law and considers the decree as a step towards that goal, already achieved in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Rosa María Rodríguez, a filmmaker focused on women’s issues with tapes such as La costurera (2016) and I love Papuchi (2018), highlighted that the preparation of her presentations of works in different stages of realization to the calls of the Fund saved the quarantine.

However, “I feel that there are many doubts … what does it mean, what does it contribute and what does it not contribute,” said Rodríguez. “I am afraid of what this decree means specifically for us as independent filmmakers because of the issues that we deal with many times,” he said.

“Almost all my films, not to say all, have never been shown on Cuban television, nor are they going to be shown because they are not in accordance with the programming policy,” he gave as an example, about the shared concern regarding the exhibition of the works on television and movie theaters, all state-owned.

A group of moviegoers waits to enter the Charles Chaplin movie theater, of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Icaic), during an edition in previous years of the Young Film Festival.  The covid-19 pandemic this year has prevented the celebration of many local and international festivals that host Havana and other cities in Cuba.  Photo: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

A group of moviegoers waits to enter the Charles Chaplin movie theater, of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Icaic), during an edition in previous years of the Young Film Festival. The covid-19 pandemic this year has prevented the celebration of many local and international festivals that host Havana and other cities in Cuba. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

“I have no problem working with the institution … as long as they respect the initial idea of ​​the project that I want to develop,” said Víctor Alfonso, recognized for his animated and humorous series Yesapín García y Dany y el Club de los Berracos, which circulate around Internet and thanks to informal off-line distribution mechanisms.

At the moment, an intense controversy is taking place on social networks about whether or not it is possible to talk about independent cinema in Cuba, given the legal framework that requires, for example, permits from State institutions to film in public spaces.

To maintain their independence, some filmmakers decided not to appear, at least for now, for registration.

“I prefer to maintain my individual freedom, because the collective is a bit closed,” argued Jorge Molina, a director with a large independent work, with high sexual content and the darker side of human nature. “I prefer at least to have the right to decide what I want and that carries a risk, of course,” he insisted.

“My cinema has always been minimalist but the one that comes will be much more, inside my house, in closed spaces, so as not to ask for permits that they will not give me because I am not a member of the registry,” he considered.

Nor did Miguel Coyula apply, a unique director in Cuban cinema for doing almost everything in his films, such as Blue Heart, whose filming concluded this September. “Being independent is simply being independent… something else is a betrayal of the word itself. I plan to continue as a free electron ”, he assured.

The reopening of movie theaters is planned, with limited capacity as is the case throughout the world, for the second recovery phase in the post-pandemic stage. Most of the 15 Cuban provinces already pass through it, but Havana and other territories continue to present a still complicated situation of transmission of the virus, so that reopening has no foreseeable date.

In fact, the 42nd Festival of New Latin American Cinema will depend on the situation in the capital in December, to which 1800 works have already been presented.

Other local festivals opted for a modality on social networks, such as the Gibara International Film Festival, which this month held a micro-cinema exhibition in isolation.

ED: EG

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