The documentary Persona by producer Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, from Camaguey province, was premiered within the context of the 20th Workshop on Cinematographic Criticism.
Without a single musical note this documentary creates a symphony, a symphony from the soul. For 27 minutes, five people share their noises, voices, weeps and stifled screams. In short instants the author takes inside a universe where we end up getting rid of miseries and recovering faith in the human being.
A look at some of your documentaries (Usufructo, Mi Saoco…) allows us to notice your interest in popular culture. Why do you retake this interest in Persona in humble and common people?
High culture cannot understand popular culture, regardless of books and all theory in the world, if there are no strong personal experiences it is impossible to understand the extraordinary in human relations and with those people that don’t posses high education and high economic positions. I’m interested in small stories from town people… because that’s what’s universal for me. And that’s something that anyone living in Vedado for instance, surrounded by books and contemplative knowledge about life cannot get. What can they say about life those who haven’t suffered at all?
How did this approach to the lives of five different but close people emerge?
Persona was born at the School of Cinema. I won a documentary direction scholarship with Usufructo, a very personal work about my father. I went to San Antonio to study for sometime. At the International School of Cinema and Television (EICTV) I screened Usufructo and it called the attention of a friend, Edgar Soberon, and next day he told me he would produce my next documentary. These were his exact words: –I have to tell you about it although he may later on read the interview and may disapprove that had rattled him out– “the night I saw your documentary I cried”. And that was really touching and gave me a lot of confidence.
At that moment I didn’t even know what my next work would be. After developing some ideas and dream with them, rather than dream making the most of creation insomnia, I came up with the idea of narrating conflicts and situations about several people close to me. I decided to summarize the stories of these five people. However, I had a dilemma. Suite Habana was a documentary recently premiered in 2003 and everyone had it fresh in their memories. That’s why, I committed to making a piece that would take something from Fernando Perez, but that wouldn’t resemble too much to Suite Habana.
How hard was the creation process of Persona?
At the beginning it was going to be five short films joined in one hour long movie. However, the shooting was too long –it lasted nine months and I always work alone–, I realized that there were some stories that reiterated others. Consequently, I decided to use only the stories of five people.
When I had edited the first short film I met with my producers Edgar Soberon and Ricardo Figueredo and we noticed that five independent short films wouldn’t do it. They asked me to another outline to join the stories. I listened to them and in one of those conversations I have with myself I said to me: “this is the real documentary and not the one I had in mind”.
This made me work double but it was worthy. For that I have to thank Edgar Soberon –and I must confess– since the beginning he told me the best option would be to intertwine the stories. Ricardo also asked me for a different edition, he told me to continue trying until I felt confortable. But as stubborn as I am, I wanted to do it my way. I have to thank them both for the freedom they gave me during the whole creative process.
Could you give some hints for the readers about the plot of the stories included in the documentary?
It has been really difficult because I tell the story of my mother and my brother which is heartbreaking, mostly my brother’s disappearance… Reviving that past has been painful for me and my mother. I also included a story of a friend of mine, a gravedigger who as a victim of racial discrimination became a killer and served a sentence of 18 years imprisonment, though society hasn’t forgiven him yet. Now he is honestly admirable. I haven’t met many former ex convicts that have been able to reform themselves and fit in.
I get close to the life of Rafael Almanza, a Cuban writer very popular abroad, but who hasn’t published anything in Cuba for a long time. He has some interesting viewpoints on Jose Marti’s work; he has devoted his life to the study of Jose Marti. The greatest influence in this documentary has been Jose Marti’s work precisely. The focus of Persona is the speech Con todos y para el bien de todos. Actually, Persona is Marti’s faith in human improvement and the hope that Cuba as nation will regain its sanity.