In November last year, the French channel France O released the documentary ¨La vaca de marmol¨, by the prominent critic and filmmaker Enrique Colina. In Cuba it was only exhibited once during the last edition of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, in Havana.
Few days ago a Spanish friend who saw Colina’s documentary asked me for Ubre Blanca. For those who do not know, this was a cow that in the 19 80s became a media phenomenon. In just one day the animal produced 110, 9 liters of milk and 27 674, 2 liters in 365 days, displacing Arleen, the American champion, from the Guinness Book. At that time many people believed that problems of Cuban economy would be solved through that cow; dream that failed several months later.
Colina, master of the documentary in Cuba , used Ubre Blanca’s story to metaphorically address about other failed economic plans conducted decades ago on the island. Given the insistence of my friend to know more about this film, I wanted to contact Enrique Colina. We started talking about ¨La Vaca de marmol¨, but this ended up being only a pretext for one of the most lucid intellectuals of our country, to talk about how he sees the present and future of Cuba.
Tell us about La Vaca de Marmol and its relationship with current Cuba…
The starting point of this film is the phenomenon that we have always lived gauging facts that have some degree of uniqueness and turn them into reality paradigms. The film expresses what one interviewee says on Cuban press, which is more propaganda than thoughtful and does not offer a symptomatic analysis of reality that we need as citizens. A prove of this is what is happening with the exorbitant price of cars in the street, all people talk about it and no media outlet has referred to this event. After another congress of the Association of Cuban Journalists in which they all always are in favor of reflecting reality, nothing appears about it.
Ubre Blanca’s media phenomenon in the eighties was awesome. I was on the Isle of Youth few years after the propaganda paraphernalia around its existence. There I visited the workshop of some sculptors where the marble cow was made. They had already completed it several years ago and the authorities had not yet decided where to place the sculpture, they did not know if putting it at the entrance of the airport, in a public place or in its place of origin. The sculptors were desperate for the statue to be removed from the workshop because it took up too much space. Since then I had the idea of making the documentary, because this cow could become a symbol, a metaphor for an alienated reality. Alienation that even today is still officially represented in the worship to a hero placed on its pedestal, although there is a garbage can overflowing at his feet, but in the frame it always only appears the hero and the pedestal.
We live in a present that is the expression of that stubborn deformation and that will be irreversible while no recognition of the causes and those responsible for the mistakes that have been committed. The story of the cow is the magnification of an exceptional phenomenon of nature, which does not deny the serious scientific work done. It w as justified doing experiments to create a type of heat-resistant cattle and cows that were major producers of meat and milk. In 1981 an extraordinary milk production is achieved. What happens is that to achieve this production with F2 animals, resulting from these crosses that had been made and in which there is a reason and a scientific success that I respect, it had to be favorable conditions.
In the eighties a lot of milk was produced because there was an economic support to sustain such State cattle raising. But that support was through Soviet aid and not by an internal economic structure that was reproducing the necessary wealth to sustain that kind of plan. We have lived embraced to the myths. And one of the goals I have always considered as a filmmaker is to help salvaging something of the historical memory of this process, not the transcendent facts exalted and crushed by the official ritual, but that of the review of daily life of a national life seen from the base and not from the voluntary mirage of dire consequences, i.e., those rains that brought these mud which is precisely also treated in a way in this documentary.
Ubre Blanca is also the 10 million harvest, the Cordón de La Habana, a plan by Fidel Castro which intended to plant coffee around this city, the micro -jet banana, zeolite … it is a bit all these economic plans which, in a proactive manner and with the best intentions that I do not deny, failed. Wanting to rapidly take off from underdevelopment and flying without own wings, reality has brought us back to the mirror image, that of Snow White’s witch with which the ’80s filmmakers generation critically compared Cuban television, until a day it said that she was not the most beautiful and she broke it.
You now tell me about Cuban cinema. According to you, what are the current handholds and ravines of the current cinematic production in Cuba?
Cuban cinema is composed of different generations and therefore different looks. Its health is delicate due to material shortages because as you know it is very difficult to make a film without money. On the other hand there is another factor that has facilitated it which is the advent of new technologies. Now people talk about the protests that a group of filmmakers has made against bureaucratic attempt to make a restructuring in ICAIC (Spanish acronym for Cuban Film Institute) without taking into account the filmmakers. This claim includes the legal recognition of independent production, since ICAIC has not the resources it had at that time in which at around 6 and 8 feature films, 50 newsreels and many others documentaries and animated films could be made per year. That ended up, the bubble exploded and so we must recognize that we must fight independently, but with a neither paternalistic nor censoring state institution, but developer of incentives to maintain and defend through its collaboration the film culture that the Revolution boosted.
I think interesting things are being made. I recently saw works by two young filmmakers, ¨Melaza¨ and ¨La Piscina¨, and I found them very suggestive, they both show conflicts of current reality that must be addressed from different aesthetic, human and critical angles. This new generation has its concerns, its sensitivity and is facing a very contradictory reality that projects an uncertain future. There are documentaries on the Sample of Young Cinema that reveal that critical, anti conservative and controversial look on undeclared topics and taboos. They do not give back to conflicts and, therefore, for being inconvenient, they are not disclosed and not put on television.
Another problem of Cuban cinema is displaying. How are the movie theaters? Where is the money to equip and repair them? You can make an independent film but … then what? Where did you exhibit it? Particular 3d cinemas were removed and what is the alternative? Some positive changes have been seen but all transformations must be linked to people participation. Sometimes measures are taken deliberately because of taken decisions are not foreseen. We are like trapped, the entanglement is not only material but of ideological type and modification that we need is not only tactical and partially economical but political. Paraphrasing Raul, the only commitment that Cuban cinema has is maintaining an artistic, serious and reflexive dialogue with its national reality.
Colina, you talk me about Cuban cinema, past, present and future but you also speak about Cuba ¿Do you consider yourself a filmmaker that questions the society in which you live?
Utopian stubbornness becomes dreams in nightmares if there is not critic; there is not debate without ideas. I’m in favor of the Revolution’s human ideas and I’m obsessively against the practice of its deformation. In the eighties I made ¨Estetica¨, in which I addressed the issue of beauty as a necessity of human condition. Socialism, despite developing instruction and culture, has always neglected education of aesthetic sensibility in urban environmental manifestations. Today, linked to poverty, ugliness has emerged as expressive pattern of crisis. You g o to places and everything is ugly and poorly made, which I also reflected as a distorting symptom in ¨Chapucerias¨ and I will make you cry also through ¨Yo¨, which tells about the poor quality of state services. In ¨Vecinos¨ I showed conflicts of coexistence and social indiscipline tolerated by an irresponsible permissibility, etc. In the end I’ve made some documentaries reflecting problems that already existed in the eighties and that have getting worse at terrible levels today. Beyond considering myself a critic I think I’m a person who lives in this country and who sees its reality without prejudice and without being evasive at the cost of living a bitter deception which far from paralyzing me, it encourages me to protest. I guess what I do is nothing exceptional. I have an opinion and I have the right to say it. It is a shame this attitude not to be more spread. My point of view is that we have become in a sort of citizen who has not developed an elemental civic sense. Being revolutionary has been historically obeying, to meet the assigned tasks and that of thinking for your own, saying and acting in consequence has remained for demagogical rhetoric. Soon I and those in charge are going to die and then we wonder, what will happen with the country and what responsibility do we have? Do you think I can turn back to my reality having a means of expression? This is more an obligation than a right.
Let’s keep on talking about cinema, what can you tell us about your new projects?
¨La vaca… and other documentaries I think to make on tourism and the Special Period have that in common, reflecting on what I call present-past, that of ¨Yesterday I as a wonder, but Today I’m not my own shadow.¨
The first is about tourism, one of the economic supports of Cuban current reality; the tourist, that being that travels carrying euros and who represents an income source and therefore a way of life for many people. It is a reflection on the weight that foreigners have always had in the life of Cubans.
The one on the Special Period especially interests me because I think we have to analyze this stage not only from the perspective of the heroic resistance of “Socialism or Death”, the “Battle of Ideas” or the “Marches of Combatant People”, it has also been the resistance to make the needed changes today to update the so-called “Cuban economic model.”
The uncertain future we face today is the result of that pool of black water where the values had gone rotting. To change is necessary watching us face to face with our past-present in an uncomfortable mirror that make us thinking to accumulate experience from mistakes and not to make them again.
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