Nothing is freer than human understanding; since what God does not violate, why should I violate it?
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
On Friday, June 23, the meeting between the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers and representatives of the Party, the government and cultural institutions such as the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS) took place in Havana.
It was attended by Inés María Chapman, deputy prime minister; Rogelio Polanco, member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and Director of its Ideological Department; Alpidio Alonso, minister of culture; Ramón Samada, president of ICAIC; Luis Morlote, president of UNEAC; Yasel Toledo, vice president of the AHS; and Fernando Rojas, deputy minister of culture, who shared the table placed on the stage of the Chaplin room and had significant participation in the meeting and in some of the events that preceded it.
Since the preparations for the exchange, the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers has put into action the inclusive will declared among its operating principles. This motivated, in the first place, the negotiation with the Ministry of Culture to hold the meeting at a later date than the first proposal and to hold it in the Chaplin room of the Cinematheque, instead of the space that had been initially planned.
Secondly, the Assembly favored the attendance of the new members incorporated into it — based on the publication of its declaration of June 15 — who could attend in person; since, although the inclusion of the virtual modality in the plenary sessions had been proposed, this would not be guaranteed immediately. However, later I found out that some of the colleagues had not been summoned.
The June 23 meeting, called for 9:00 a.m., began almost an hour later. It was called a “work meeting” by the representatives of the State, the Party and the aforementioned cultural institutions. Dialogue and respect were repeatedly spoken of, words that abounded in the introduction made by Ramón Samada, president of ICAIC, who acted as moderator.
To the interest expressed repeatedly by members of the Assembly to leave an electronic record of what was about to happen, through image and sound or, at least, through sound, the request was opposed by the representatives of the government, as well as by the president of ICAIC, who also requested that this not happen. It was invoked as an essential argument that such a record must have the authorization or acquiescence of the person(s) in question. The issue was the subject of sustained conflict during the first hours of the meeting.
The representatives of the institutionality began by examining and responding to what was expressed in the Declaration of Cuban Filmmakers dated June 15, the result of the Assembly session held that day at the 23 and 12 movie theater. The document begins by denouncing the exhibition, in extraordinary conditions, of the documentary La Habana de Fito, by Juan Pin Vilar, as an example of what it qualifies as irresponsible conduct of officials who serve in cultural institutions.
Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas referred to this in detail, exposing in chronological detail the events that preceded the television broadcast of the film. For the first time, the institution offered “public information” on the subject to filmmakers, one of the dissatisfactions included in the Declaration. However, from the audience’s point of view, it was not “satisfactory” since, in support of the documentary’s showing on Cuban television, Rojas cited a section of the Articles of the Copyright Law that, according to the official refers to exceptional situations. The deputy minister referred to the articles of the Third Section, Chapter VI of Law 154/2022 “On Author and Performing Artist Copyrights.”
The exceptionality of the situation at hand, according to the line of argument, was given by two references present in the documentary to two events in the post-1959 history of Cuba that were harmful to the sensitivity of our people.
This would have determined that a film made by independent production companies (FILM Corporation, La Rueda Producciones and X Pin Producciones) was shown on public television represented by a copy — the one that was in the Cuban Film Promotion Fund — that does not correspond to its final version, not yet exhibited in Cuba and without having made its journey through film events that would correspond before its presentation to the general public. Furthermore, the exhibition did not have the authorization of its director and producer.
The television presentation of La Habana de Fito was carried out in the absence of its filmmakers and with critical comments from a panel made up of three people, an unusual practice in the Espectador crítico space of the Canal Educativo Channel.
Not everyone present at the meeting knew about the documentary; on the other hand, the issue of how much Cuban legislation covers the decision made left more doubts than certainties. In subsequent interventions, the members of the Assembly would reiterate their concern for the protection of the work’s copyright.
Next, Juan Pin Vilar, director of the documentary, gave his version of what happened and established his points of view, which include the treatment by legal means of what the production team considers a violation of its rights.
From then on, those present in the room who wished to speak could do so without a time limit.
The personal notes that I took account for more than twenty-five interventions in a range of voices from all present generations, without exception, and where a good part of the multiplicity of trades that participate in film production appears: scriptwriters, directors, assistant directors, producers, editors, actors, sound engineers, critics, casting directors, festival directors, promoters….
The speeches were honest, clear, on topic and firmly delivered. I was impressed by the intellectual and civic level of the audience. The claims were made not strictly from the cinema, but rather, organically, without imposition or effort, they were open to Cuba and Cubans without attaching this condition to a residence on the island.
I also noticed the political education that characterizes them and that became particularly evident in the youngest. I am referring to knowledge about civil rights and the duties of public, political and state institutions, and the objectivity of that gaze in this universe of people. They are individuals who have steeled the intention and the word in the course of a struggle sustained for years.
Faced with the insistent pronouncement of Deputy Minister Rojas that there has been no censorship, references to the vicissitudes suffered by successive editions of the Muestra Joven ICAIC were raised again and again, to the point of causing its disappearance. The plethora of filmmakers whose films are not screened in any way in the country was listed, even when the work in question is unobjectionable even for the most stubborn political “commissar.” Censorship with the sole purpose of punishing behavior.
Several voices spoke in terms of “the right of the Cuban people to know the cinema we make,” while another young man asked for “help” so as not to want to leave Cuba.
They insisted on the urgency for the institutions to open dialogue with their artists outside of Cuba, also in the audiovisual world.
It was extensively talked about the relationship between cinema, particularly Cuban cinema, and its reality and the need to recognize its complexity and richness, as well as to accept the existence of a multiplicity of gazes. The issue of programming (exhibition) of audiovisual products was dealt with at length while different proposals were formulated to guarantee intelligent and critical consumption so that there would be space to show all the cinema.
That is to say, there were endless opinions about the urgency of regular and daily dialogue, in all spaces and instances, of the kind that conjures up suspicions and closes ranks to opportunism.
At this point, one has to wonder how much artistic creation contributes to the culture of a nation; whose and for whom is this sensitive dimension of social life and what is the exact responsibility — the limits — of those to whom the delicate mission of managing culture has been entrusted.
After the interventions from the Assembly of Filmmakers, the official representatives spoke. With the exception of Deputy Prime Minister Chapman, the respective speeches were not up to the task.
To make matters worse, the statement published — shortly after the meeting concluded — about these extensive and intense hours of presentation of ideas and feelings was not relevant (Information from the Ministry of Culture). I understand that the members of the Assembly of Filmmakers who lived through the experience find it an alien and disappointing document, with the bureaucratic tone of set phrases that have nothing to do with any precise and concrete event.
The direct interpellation — as plain as others that were made there — of a young man to the members of the table comes to my memory. He asked if the revolutionaries could not apologize, excuse themselves when they make a mistake.
Dialogue is an application of culture. Its practice supposes a common repertoire of signs and meanings, in addition to the will to extend knowledge about something and put into action the capacity for empathy.
This dialogue exercise did not have the appropriate moderator. The function was demanded of the president of ICAIC, until an unexpected event was in charge of exposing the contradiction.
These events have been taking place in a creative medium in which production exceeded years ago the framework of the ICAIC institution and no longer responds to that organizing and structuring thought. These are precisely the reasons that make the new look legitimate and indispensable to include, among other devices and visions, the so-called Film Law that filmmakers have been proposing with quintessential lucidity for almost a decade.
I wonder if, from the direction of the country’s destinies, this occasion is also going to be placed within the series of lost opportunities, within the sequence of those rare moments in which it is given to touch what is called the soul of the nation and yet…
The image comes to my aid. Cinema stings. Heals. Saves.