This week the shooting of Cuba Libre started, the new film by renowned filmmaker Jorge Luis Sánchez (El Benny (2006).
A vintage story, narrated from the perspective of two children, is in summary the plot of the film, the main locations are located in the present province of Mayabeque as well as some areas of the capital, including the Morro castle.
In the words of its director and writer “Cuba Libre is the exit of Spain and the entry of the United States in the island in 1898.” He did not advance much. He prefers not to raise expectations and work on its making and then discuss this. It will be a period film, set in the late nineteenth century, and will feature performances by Isabel Santos, Manuel Porto and Yarlo Ruiz.
OnCuba arrived in the set for details on this new release. Jorge Luis, spoke little of the movie, instead he decided to talk about his biggest concern: the current state of Cuban cinema…
“I am among those who think that the Cuban cinema is in a very interesting stage. First for the diversity it is advocating, unlike years when movies watched reality from a single viewpoint or epic films made in the sixties. Our cinema has always been quite different but I think there is now more variety, which I think is very important. Science Fiction movies, on homophobia, biographical dramas, on racial discrimination, etc. . . Obviously to have a lot of quality we need to have many movies; if we shoot only around eight films a year, this is limited. There is great truth in Cuban cinema, although we are not in major international competitions, interesting things are done. Many people asked Cuban cinema what few can achieve, we do not mean better or worse. What does making a good movie mean? That it appeals to the public to review and win a prize. It is a very relative and discussed term. If I think , I’m not at all pessimistic , in my optimism that if all generations of filmmakers , from the founders to those who are graduating at this time , may come into this world of filmmaking surely will do great movies , good, fair and the same bad happens anywhere in the world. “
You are an experienced documentary filmmaker and student of the subject as you showed in your book Romper la tensión del arco, what are the major ups and downs of the genre in Cuba today?
I think the Cuban documentary, despite the existence of the Santiago Álvarez in Memoriam International Documentary Festival, where better health is right now is in the ICAIC Young Sample. Its best red blood cells sit there because this is a genre, I tell you from my experience that you cannot assume with fatigue; it has to be a revelation, there must be a passion, a reality that shakes you to express it in terms of a documentary. Apparently the youngest are who lead it right now.
There is also the example of Suite Habana through which Fernando Perez, a renowned filmmaker, gave us this magnificent film. I think the film is going through a good time as a genre. His Achilles heel is its display, which does not reach the public and should arrive to be appreciated as it deserves. We hardly go to the movies; the TV is the closest thing we have. Then we judge the overall Cuban documentary by two or three documentaries we saw and that are enough. If we sit down to see them all, the criterion change. I repeat the young people are who are doing the most interesting things. Not only for the fact they question reality but by the use of the documentary language to express a particular idea that for me where the value of film as art is.
Do you think that in Cuba we need an independent cinema?
Cuban cinema requires a transformation in the modes of production, display and distribution. This is obsolete. It was a design that worked decades ago but today is total chaos. I was preparing all the details of the film and I spent a whole morning to find something as simple as a few meters of canvas to make tents, because the mechanisms are absurd, Kafkaesque, are sheer nonsense, something terrible.
Cinema as production undergoes transformations because when one makes a film we invent a country, recreate a certain time, it has to look as real and believable as possible. If it is a period film everything becomes much more complicated. You can imagine what I’ve been through, to the point of wanting to slit my wrists transversely on a few occasions. So all this has to change. How it is possible with the course of time things will be as they are with so many strings attached? We are gagged. We must eradicate the absurd economic and bureaucratic mechanisms that slow production and all subsequent processes leading to films. It is the great drama that Cuban cinema lives today and if it is not fixed we will have to go to film Mars.
What is the social function of Cuban cinema?
I plan to write a book on how the Cuban cinema put on display ahead of time problems in society. What happens is that not always those direct have wanted to see how from the film we have alerted. When looking Cuban cinema a few years ago, filmmakers were alerting us. I’m talking about the work of Nicolás Guillén and Sara Gómez Landrián alerting us from the arts. The social function of cinema in Cuba has been to create an aesthetic universe, more or less happy depending on the final outcome of the film; the filmmaker’s concern to show serious problems of society, show what strikes reality. Let us look at Alice in Wonderland town, for example. I do believe that the artist has a mission. When I am faced with making a film I do it from the social problems that concern me, either from the past, present or future.
What worries me, what I am critical of, that I extol, I dislike is a subjectivity of human being, that humanism is present in our cinema throughout its history. Cubans do not make films to become rich, or to win a prize or a trip, but because we believe in this film as an art form , we believe in human beings , in the country and especially defend the premise that art can help reflect the problems , a psychology of the people and politics that can serve as artwork for understanding and predicting the future evils , which unfortunately has not been happy.
Cover photo: Jorge Luis Sánchez , while filming Hopelessly Together, his previous film .