Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
Sergio Corrieri in “Memorias del Subdesarrollo”. Photo: CD-File.

“Cinema is an art”, established in its introductory line of Law 169, the first that in the cultural sphere promulgated the Revolution that had triumphed in Cuba less than three months earlier. That law of 24 March 1959 recognized, however, that film production covered much more and therefore created the Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry (ICAIC). 

Since then, a cultural policy articulated and focused on national identity would accompany the cinema, putting first its primordial condition of art that, “liberated from petty bonds and useless servitudes”, it contributed to “to pose, dramatically and contemporaneously, the great conflicts of the man and the humanity”, that circumscribed to the Cuban social experience would be the center of not a few films.

The creation of the ICAIC, which shortly thereafter would follow la Casa de las Américas-another institution of integrationist look and decolonizing from the Cuban culture to the Latin American culture-, concreted in the first months of the Sixties the yearning for a National film industry, the same as they had in 1955 men like Julio García Espinosa and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Alfredo Guevara and Jorge Haydú while performing “El Mégano”.

From the ICAIC came, in its first decade, also the first of the Revolution, several of the most successful films in the history of Cuban cinema, some of them included in international lists of the best films of the TWENTIETH century.

In a recent workshop organized by the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema and the ICAIC, Dr. Graziella Pogolotti said that this institution not only designed a cultural film policy, but contributed to form the policy culture of that first decade of the Revolution.

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
Humberto Solás, director of  films like Lucía, Miel para Oshùn, Manuela, Cecilia y Barrio Cuba. Photo: Archivo CD.

The Sixties-that time of revolutionary artistic avant-gardes, of defense of the social function of art, of the Hall of May and the Cultural Congress of Havana-were the years in which the Cuban cinema produced films like “Historias de la Revolución, Memorias del subdesarrollo, Lucía, Soy Cuba (coproduced with USSR), Now! and La muerte de un burócrata”. National cinema had never achieved such levels of production and aesthetic and conceptual searches. 

The ICAIC produced and stimulated creation, but it also distributed. That was one of the great social and cultural gains from those early years: the creation of new audiences, the production of a national cinema that had as premise the artistic and social commitment of those who did it and the vocation-without making concessions in the artistic discourse-to take it to the wider public, to the people.

Still many remember the Mobile cinemas(an experience gathered in “Por primera vez, 1967”) that “scattered” or sowed the cinema by the mountains and rural areas. Many saw movies for the first time. Good Cinema. Beyond the numbers, it is valid to imagine how many new cultural horizons, how many new concerns were opened in communities that otherwise would not have accessed the same tapes that were projected in the halls of the cities.

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
Cuban film Posters

With the promotion of cinema came the other similar artistic manifestations. From the Animation Studios came short and feature films that created classical characters and have accompanied those who are today grandparents and parents, who see them with children and grandchildren. The film poster-saying Cuban film poster was elevated to category, to school-exceeded the framework of the promotional and was made art in the hands of artists and graphic designers, among them Raúl Martínez, René Portocarrero, Servando Cabrera, Alfredo Rostgaard and Eduardo Muñoz Bachs.

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
Animation Studios brought animated and characters who have entertained generations of Cubans.

In 1969 arose the Group of Experimentation Sonora of the ICAIC (GESI), that until 1977, starting from the founding idea of making music for the new Cuban cinema, generated a nucleus of explorations and creativity whose strength and repercussion exceeded the borders of the own Institution and cinema, and whose echoes still resonate today in Cuban music. 

Initially under the leadership and mastery of Leo Brouwer-also of Juan Elósegui, Federico Smith and Geronimo wrought-, in the workshops of creation, the recordings and academic sessions of the GESI converged musical personalities like Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanese, Noel Nicola, Sergio Vitier and Eduardo Ramos. In Addition, they were joined later by Leoginaldo Pimentel, Leonardo Acosta, Emiliano Salvador, Pablo Menendez, Armando Guerra and, finally, Sara González, Amaury Pérez and other young musicians. 

Searches, fusions, collective experimentation with sounds that came from the same of Europe as the United States and Brazil, the music of concerts and Cuban genres such as “el son o el guaguancó..” In GESI music was made for the cinema and also for the Cuban musical history: Cuba va (Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Noel Nicola), Los caminos (Pablo), Para una imaginaria María del Carmen (Noel), Danzón (Sergio Vitier), América tu distancia (Pablo), Un hombre se levanta (Silvio) y Canción de los CDR (Eduardo Ramos).

It’s been sixty years of films and much more, because on the way, if we look at the history of the ICAIC, we will have to mention “el Noticiero ICAIC”, the magazine Cine Cubano, the film Library of Cuba and its archive, which have kept and put to the reach of generations of Cubans the best of the National and world cinema, and, in recent years,la Muestra Joven, a door to what is creating the new generation of filmmakers.

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
From 5 to 15 December 2019, the Film Festival will be dedicated to Santiago Álvarez, to 100 years of his birth. Photo: CD-File.

Since 1979, the International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema has been a meeting point and promotion for filmmakers of the continent, way of bringing the cinema of the region to the Cuban public and to exchange and theorize about trends and new scenarios of the cinematographic creation in Latin America. 

During the awards ceremony in the most recent edition of the Festival, in December 2018, its president, Ivan Giroud, said that “it is urgent that the new generations take their place in our festival and help him to resize with his works, concerns and obsessions. Only then can we keep calling them New. “

I think one of the great virtues of the Festival has been to maintain a coherent line from its conception, a very clear purpose of what was proposed, which was, first, to create a space of confluence for the filmmakers and the cinema of Latin America , a meeting space, but also creating new audiences for that cinema. It Is one of the great works of the Festival, the public that has formed during these forty years watching and appreciating Latin American cinema. I believe that Cuba is the only country in Latin America that today has, at a public, massive level, that knowledge of cinematography like the Latin American. (Iván Giroud, President of the Havana Festival, in an interview with Cubadebate)

Sixty years of film and much more. In the history of ICAIC have been films like Now!, which some consider the forerunner of the video clip, and classics of the TWENTIETH century as “Memorias del subdesarrollo”. Hundreds of fiction films and documentaries, thousands of scenes and faces, an immense choral work. 

When it comes to remembering imagescan be Sergio who roams the city, Rachel in “La isla de las cotorras” on the scene of Alhambra, the monumental brawl in front of the cemetery in “La muerte de un burócrata”, el abrazo de Diego y David en “Fresa y chocolate”, the final race at the Salina de Lucía, the tribulations of Concha en Plaff! Or the barbecue that is coming down while two young people love each other in “Amor vertical; Intense and unforgettable endings like of “Clandestino”s or  “la meditación”, the feeling of loss and the incommunicado in films like Madagascar, the still current depth of others like “Memorias…

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío during the filming of Strawberry and chocolate. Photo: CD-File.

Everyone will have their image, or their images. There’s everything in Cuban cinema for the last sixty years, mostly produced and created under the umbrella of ICAIC: a cinema with a strong imprint of the documentary, in which there is no shortage of historical reenactments, hilarious comedies and others in which laughter takes turns with the Tragedy, difficult lives, insights and heresies, and in whose future they reflect-in themes, in approaches, tones-the historical moments, the bonanzas and crises, even the state spirit that has lived in these decades the Cuban nation. 

Heresy is not easy. However, practicing it is the source of a deep and encouraging satisfaction, and this is greater, the more authentic the rupture or ignorance of the commonly accepted dogmas. In this sense, heresy is a risk because it matters the abandonment of the trails, and the rejection of its substitution. There is no adult life without systematic heresy, without the commitment to run all risks. And that is why this attitude to life, to the world, implies an adventure and the possibility of failure. But it is also the only real opportunity to approach the truth in any of its edges. (Alfredo Guevara, “Cuban Cinema 1963”, in Cuban Cinema magazine).

1 Sixty years of Industry and Art in Cuban cinema
Alfredo Guevara with Santiago Álvarez. Foto: Archivo CD.

Recent years have been the emergence of new technologies in the production and distribution of films, new ways of financing and promotion; The independent cinema and the polemics and debates on the role of the institution and the need for new legal forms in a cinematographic landscape that, like the social and economic of the country, has changed and requires updates.

A cinematographic landscape in which state and non-state forms of production coexist; In which there is an external context to the artistic fact that generates confrontation, and in which, as many voices in the industry recognize, the independent does not have to be at odds with the institutional, as the practice has shown in recent years. It Is part of the logic of a changing country, even without giving up its essences.

During all year 2019, different activities will be held to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between Cuba and India, which will be held on January 12, 2020. Both countries have maintained throughout these years an excellent relationship, based on deep bonds of friendship and respect that have forever united the culture of both peoples. Within the framework of these celebrations, on April 8th at 6:30 p.m., a Cuban Film Festival will be inaugurated at the India International Center in New Delhi, in which different films of the island will be screened, from different perspectives, the reality of Cuban society. The film that will open the Festival will be the award winning film “Viva Cuba” by director Juan Carlos Cremata.