NewMen Studio is the name of the Cuban audiovisual studio that will represent the island in the next edition of the Sundance Festival, which will be held in the United States from January 23 until February 2.
Led by young filmmakers Patricia Díaz and Marcos Louit, this project will present on the 24th Bembé, its most recent cinematographic work, a short filmed with the virtual reality (VR) technique that is included in the New Frontiers section of the prestigious event, founded by filmmaker Robert Redford.
This material seeks to approach the viewer to a unique experience that is part of Cuban culture: the possibility of closely appreciating one of the ancestral festivals within the Yoruba religion. An experience between two worlds: the real and the spiritual one, which the cinematographic material tries to capture.
Journey to the root
“Everything came up in a pre-production trip that we made to the eastern region of the country. We went to get to know the stories and meet people from the municipality of Felicidad de Yateras, in Guantánamo, where we planned to search for experiences, as we did in the town of Ranchería, where there are traces of the presence of indigenous people in Cuba,” says Patricia Díaz, one of the directors of the short.
The young visual artist adds that, although they had a predesigned idea of what they wanted, “due to the ups and downs of the profession and the process prior to filming, other things not foreseen happened and Ernesto Collinet appeared, protagonist of the story, as well as his family who, in addition to living in front of the stone zoo, have their house located on a hill, with a wonderful view, an opportunity we took advantage of.”
The bembé is a party where the Orishas of the Yoruba pantheon are praised through songs and dances accompanied by music, so that the Orishas feel identified with the performed rhythms and prayers, and can join the party through the trance of one of the priests present.
“The ritual of the bembé in eastern Cuba, particularly in the area of Felicidad de Yateras where we were, has the characteristic of correctly maintaining the religious syncretism in the country in general, but there is also a lot of animism, a greater approach with nature and very pure ritualistic elements, rooted in the most traditional ways in which these rituals are performed, elements that were quite interesting to us,” says Díaz, a graduate of History of Art at the University of Havana.
1. Photogram of “Bembé,” Cuban short filmed in virtual reality. Photo: NewMen Studio
2. Photogram of “Bembé,” Cuban short filmed in virtual reality. Photo: NewMen Studio
3. Photogram of “Bembé,” Cuban short filmed in virtual reality. Photo: NewMen Studio
4. Photogram of “Bembé,” Cuban short filmed in virtual reality. Photo: NewMen Studio
5. Photogram of “Bembé,” Cuban short filmed in virtual reality. Photo: NewMen Studio
6. Photogram of “Bembé,” Cuban short filmed in virtual reality. Photo: NewMen Studio
Ernesto’s connection with the Haitian voodoo, its practices, the family bond around the bembé, which comes from his ancestors, as well as the legacy he shows his daughters and godchildren in religion, was also of interest to the work team; an experience different from similar practices in other regions of the country, even outside of Cuba, both directors explain.
The studio, the reality, the virtual
NewMen Studio was founded in 2016 and since then they have been working in the development and implementation of artistic multimedia projects, with the aim of improving the quality of Cuban audiovisuals, both in the technological and artistic aspects.
Through collaborations with photographers, visual artists, filmmakers, engineers, designers, among other professionals and specialists, Patricia and Marcos, founders of the project, have been able to materialize various works, mostly of great complexity.
In the case of its most recent production, it had as a background a proposal also filmed in virtual reality, Cuba, la isla encantada, which is part of a series still being developed, as the directors explained.
ISLA es nuestro próximo proyecto interactivo en VR!#NEMWENstudio expandiendo los límites del cine.#Isla #VRcubano #cubanVR #RealidadVirtual
ISLA is our next interactive VR project! #NEMWENstudio expanding the limits of cinema.#Isla # #VRcubano #cubanVR #VirtualReality
The current project that will have its premier at Sundance began to take shape at the New York Film Academy in 2015, where Louit, who is also a graduate of the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School, obtained part of his training.
“Bembé is a more observational and face-to-face work, unlike our first work in VR, designed with another objective. Cuba, la isla encantada has more visual effects and image treatment than Bembé, which was also created with another approach,” Louit explained to OnCuba.
Currently, the NewMen Studio team is immersed in Isla, their next work that is presented as an interactive story, also with the same virtual reality technology, which provides an encompassing experience to the viewer, very fashionable today worldwide.
There will be six presentations of the Cuban project in Sundance this year, which is exhibited in the New Frontiers section, where 28 different materials are included, divided into several sections. VR Cinema 1 is the name of the section where Bembé is included, dedicated entirely to cinema made in virtual reality, which covers two projection cycles in New Frontiers.
For the first time an audiovisual filmed with these characteristics is included in the Sundance Film Festival, a mecca of independent cinema worldwide.
The International Animation Film Festival of Tbilisi, in Georgia, is another event where Bembé will be exhibited, where feature films, shorts, television series and VR content come together, are some of the sections covered by this festival, where Cuban cinema will also be felt through these young filmmakers.