Part I
Revolutionary Cuban cinema

by Julianne Burton

from Jump Cut, no. 19, December 1978, pp. 17-20
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1978, 2005

In the initial moments of Tomás Gutierrez Alea's LA MUERTE DE UN BURÓCRATA (THE DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT, 1966) there is an audacious and brilliantly comic sequence. [1] The deceased worker around whose disinterred remains the plot will revolve is seen in semi-animated flashback at his workplace. An exemplary proletarian artist, he has reduced art to a science, having devised a machine which produces busts of Cuban national poet and patriot José Martí with the monotonous regularity of cogs emerging from a press. In a moment of carelessness, the worker falls prey to his own invention. The last bust to emerge is his own; he has been martyred to his misguided concept of art.

The sequence imaginatively conveys the Cuban film industry's rejection of mechanical concepts mechanically imposed on the creative process. As anyone who has sampled post-revolutionary Cuban cinema can testify, Cuban filmmaking is seldom predictable or automatic. U.S. audiences discovered this to their surprise in 1973 with the theatrical release of MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (Tomás Gutierrez Alea, 1968). Disarmed by its complexity and inventiveness, by its sophisticated wit and sympathetic portrayal of its bourgeois protagonist, U.S. critics greeted the film with ringing praise. The New York Times listed it among the year's ten best films. The National Society of Film Critics offered its director a special award, though the State Department's refusal to grant him a visa prevented him from attending the ceremony. However regrettable, such a response was not unexpected given how the Treasury Department had shut down the First New York Festival of Cuban Cinema the previous year, confiscating all prints on the second day of the week-long program and eventually driving American Documentary Films, sponsors of the festival, into bankruptcy.

For nearly two decades, the U.S. has sought to isolate Cuba from the rest of the world by imposing an economic and cultural blockade on the island. During this period, Cuban cinema and the related arts of music and poster design have continually succeeded in breaking through the cultural blockade to assert the political integrity and unbridled creative energy of this struggling socialist society.

Cuban cinema continues to be viewed belatedly and sporadically in North America. Coinciding with the gradual diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., however, a large number of features and documentaries have become available to us in the past two years through the efforts of Tricontinental Film Center and the Center for Cuban Studies. The desire to acquaint North American audiences with these films and provide a basis for their appreciation is one of the motivating factors behind this special section. In a larger sense, this section constitutes a tribute to the most lively of the Cuban arts in this year, which marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the revolutionary insurrection.

The leaders of the guerrilla struggle were quick to perceive the artistic and educational supremacy of the film medium. In early 1959, soon after Fidel became head of the new revolutionary government, he ranked cinema and television, in that order, as the most important forms of artistic expression. A decade later, the First National Congress on Education and Culture pointed to radio, television, the cinema, and the press as

"powerful instruments of ideological education, molders of the collective consciousness whose use and development must not be left to improvisation or spontaneity."

The congress singled out film as "the art par excellence in our century." Histories of post-revolutionary Cuban cinema customarily begin by observing that the decree which founded the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) on March 24, 1959, was the first cultural act of the revolutionary government, coming less than three months after the overthrow of Batista. In fact, another revolutionary film organization preceded ICAIC. Cine Rebelde, part of the Rebel Army's National Board of Culture, was founded as soon as the rebels took power. After producing two documentary shorts, Tomás Gutierrez Alea's ESTA TIERRA NUESTRA (THIS IS OUR LAND) and Julio García Espinosa's LA VIVIENDA (HOUSING), Cine Rebelde became part of the newly founded film Institute.

Pre-revolutionary history

Cubans frequently stress the absence of a cinematic tradition in pre-revolutionary Cuba, as Fidel did in his Report to the First Party Congress (1975) when he commended the achievements of "a new art form, without a history or a tradition in our country." Leading filmmaker and theorist Julio García Espinosa concurs regarding the dearth of constructive models but emphasizes the potential impact of what was in fact a powerful negative heritage.

Cuban film historians emphasize the parallel historical development of the film medium, the U.S. drive toward extraterritorial expansion, and the history of Cuba as a nation. Cubans were exposed to the moving image as early as citizens of any country on the continent, the first Lumière films making their debut there in 1897. By 1898, Cuban audiences were already being treated to the cinema as a vehicle for historical falsification imposed upon them by their neighbors to the north. FIGHTING WITH OUR BOYS IN CUBA, RAISING OLD GLORY OVER DRO CASTLE, THE BATTLE OF SAN JUAN HILL, and the like alternated authentic footage with blatant simulations filmed not in Cuba but in the U.S. Their purpose was not to relay an accurate picture of the Cuban War for Independence from Spain but rather to rouse patriotic Yankee sentiment in favor of U.S. intervention in that war.

In the early years of the U.S. movie industry, independents fleeing the watchful and monopolizing eye of Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company took refuge on Cuban shores before eventually setting up shop in southern California. Sporadic attempts to establish a national Cuban film industry capable of competing with entrenched foreign concerns seemed doomed to perennial failure and were virtually abandoned after the advent of sound. Film production, distribution, and exhibition in Cuba became the province of U.S. and Mexican companies. From the thirties through the fifties, Cuba's major cinematic role was to furnish exotic sets, sultry sex queens, and a tropical beat for Hollywood and Mexican productions.

Cuba offered an audience as well. In proportion to its population, the Cuban movie market was the most lucrative in Latin America. A population of less than seven million produced the astonishing number of one and a half million moviegoers per week despite the fact that large segments of the rural population had never seen a single film.

Escapist tropical musicals, melodramas, and detective flicks characterized national film production during the twenty years preceding Batista's overthrow. The 8,000 workers in the industry were primarily employed in the production of advertising shorts for theaters and television, newsreels for local consumption, and technical or scientific films for specialized audiences. One other specialty of the pre-revolutionary film industry deserves mention: Cuba had more than its share of enterprising pornographers.

During the fifties, the only serious film activity which took place on the island was centered in film societies, in particular the Nuestro Tiempo (Our Times) and Visión groups. In 1954, two members of the former, Julio García Espinosa and Tomes Gutierrez Alea, fresh from two years of film study at the Centro Sperimentale in Rome, collaborated with several other Cubans on an interpretive documentary called EL MÉGANO (THE CHARCOAL WORKER). This denunciation of the hardships of charcoal production on the island's southern coast was confiscated by Batista. Though its style and formulation now seem embarrassingly naive, the film still enjoys the special distinction of being the only antecedent of post-revolutionary cinema. All who collaborated on it have gone on to become leading figures in ICAIC: screenwriter Alfredo Guevara has been the director of the Film Institute since its founding; production assistant Jorge Fraga, now a director in his own right, also serves as head of artistic programming; cameraman Jorge Haydu is a leading cinematographer; and García Espinosa and Gutierrez Alea have become two of ICAIC's foremost directors.

Cuban film production, 1959-1977

Despite the remarkable size of the national film audience, the most reliable estimates conclude that the Cuban film industry produced no more than 150 features in its six decades of prerevolutionary history. Aside from newsreels, noncommercial documentaries were virtually unheard of. In the succeeding 17 years, ICAIC produced 74 full-length and 12 medium-length films, some 600 documentary shorts — educational, scientific, and technical as well as animated and fictional films — and more than 800 weekly newsreels.[2]

As these production statistics demonstrate, ICAIC has given priority to documentary over fictional subjects. Both economic and ideological factors motivate this preference. The economic motivations are obvious: when funds and equipment are limited, professional actors, elaborate scripts, costuming, and studio sets can be regarded as nonessentials. In a society based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism, it is believed only fitting that creative activity be based on the confrontation with material reality. The impulse to document the euphoria of the rebel victory and popular response to the resulting social transformations brought aspiring filmmakers out into the streets. What had previously been an impossible dream — making serious cinema in Cuba — was now an immediate possibility for scores of young cinephiles. This attempt to record the first convulsive moments of revolutionary victory had a profound effect on artists who had previously conceived of filmmaking as above all a vehicle for personal expression. In their documentary apprenticeship, Cuban filmmakers came face to face with unimagined aspects of their national reality. This growth in awareness and social sensitivity is largely responsible for the intense dialectic between historical circumstance and individual response, which informs fictional as well as documentary production in post-revolutionary Cuban cinema.

The newsreels, produced under the direction of Santiago Alvarez and aimed not just at Cuban audiences but toward all of Latin America, are exceptional examples of the genre. Alvarez explains that his concern has not been to make each news item independent of the others, but to connect them in such a way that they pass before the spectator as a unified whole, according to a single discursive line.

"This accounts for the deliberate structuration which we use to achieve this thematic unity. For this reason, many classify our newsreels as genuine and autonomous documentaries." [3]

Visitors to Cuban movie theaters often observe that popular interest in the newsreel threatens to outstrip interest in the programs main feature.

Many award-winning shorts have developed out of these newsreels. Their geographic range suggests the broad thematic scope of the Cuban documentary movement. NOW (1965) deals with racial violence in the southern United States; 79 SPRINGTIMES (1969) is a poetic eulogy to Ho Chi Minh; THE TIGER POUNCED AND KILLED, BUT HE WILL DIE, HE WILL DIE (1973) pays tribute to assassinated Chilean folksinger Victor Jara. Distributed through Newsreel, the first two documentaries were among the first Cuban films in U.S. distribution. They were effectively used as organizing tools in the Civil Rights and antiwar movements and had a marked impact on the films of Newsreel filmmakers and other independents.

Initially restricted by the shortage of funds, material, and resources, Alvarez was one of many Cuban filmmakers to successfully turn practical handicaps into expressive assets. Obliged to draw from existing film archives and such secondhand sources as news photos and television footage, he developed a methodology which circumvented the need for on-the-spot footage and elevated the film collage to a high level of political and artistic quality.

The innovative display of secondary footage, rhythmic editing with dramatic variations in pace, the use of graphically innovative titles and eclectic musical selections in preference to any spoken narration, and superimposition and other experimental montage techniques characterize his early films. Material and political circumstances encouraged Alvarez, like his spiritual ancestor Dziga Vertov, to create the essence of his art on the editing table. As circumstances have changed and more resources have been put at his disposal, he has shifted from black and white to color and has begun making longer films in which primary footage often predominates. Recent films like DE AMERICA SOY HIJO … Y A ELLA ME DEBO (I AM THE SON OF AMERICA, 1972) on Fidel's trip to Chile or EL TIEMPO ES EL VIENTQ (TIME IS THE WIND, 1976) on the First Party Congress are characterized by more traditional cinematography, longer takes and less experimental editing, and the frequent use of voice-over narration.

In general, we can loosely divide Cuban documentary production into five thematic categories. Films which deal with domestic politics promote governmental policies and encourage popular participation and mass mobilization. They range from the first efforts of Cine Rebelde to recent documentaries on the new electoral process or the Family Code. Historical films chart various aspects of the formation of national identity through the five centuries of the island's recorded history. Documentaries of a cultural nature may be either national or international in their focus. Films which take international relations for their theme might focus on Cuba's role in international affairs, analyze the developed sector, or express solidarity with other Third World nations. Finally, didactic documentaries, highly technical or scientfic in nature, are generally produced by the specific agencies concerned and thus form a category unto themselves.

From an even broader perspective, two central themes run through all of Cuban cinema, fictional and documentary production alike — history and underdevelopment. Cubans interpret each of these terms in a broad and fluid way: underdevelopment as the economic and technological heritage of colonial dependency, which has its more stubborn manifestations in individual and collective psychology, ideology, and culture; history as a complex of formative influences which elucidates the present and informs the future. Both themes have had an impact on the form as well as the content of revolutionary Cuban cinema. The dialectical tension between practical limitations and artistic aspirations has encouraged innovation and spontaneity. The filming of MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT, for example, became itself a "memory of underdevelopment" as Gutierrez Alea describes it:

"At each step we felt the touch of underdevelopment. It limited us … It conditioned the language with which we expressed ourselves."

"I have to say that this is the film in which I have felt most free … in spite of the ever present limitations imposed by underdevelopment. Perhaps I felt free precisely because of those limitations." [4]

After his visit to the island in 1975, Francis Ford Coppola attempted to compare the situation in Cuba with life in the United States. Having perceived the kind of creative freedom which comes from overcoming practical constraints, he observed,

"We don't have the advantage of their disadvantages." [5]

At an early stage in the development of ICAIC, founder Alfredo Guevara expressed the organizations determination to lay bare the form and technique of the filmmaker's craft, formulating the purpose of the Cuban film project as follows:

"to demystify cinema for the entire population; to work, in a way, against our own power; to reveal all the tricks, all the recourses of language; to dismantle all the mechanisms of cinematic hypnosis." [6]

In part, this determination grows out of the conviction that all forms of artistic expression carry an ideological dimension. If this ideological bias is veiled in the vast majority of art works produced in capitalist societies, Cuban filmmakers reason, it should be made explicit in the artistic production of a revolutionary socialist regime. Thus the eclecticism of Cuban film style is in part the result of the effort to appropriate forms of cinematic expression from the developed capitalist sector in order to dismantle them and expose their inner workings. Cubans call this operation "decolonization" and consider it the first priority of their film effort.

The fact that the transformation of film content in Cuba has most often been accompanied by the will to make the form manifest produces a process oriented rather than a product oriented cinema, whether in the documentary or the fictional mode. Fiction films in particular are often open ended in order to stimulate the critical participation of the viewer. Sara Gomez's ONE WAY OR ANOTHER (1974/1977), reviewed later by a leading Cuban film critic, and Manuel Octavio Gomez's UNA MUJER, UN HOMBRE, UNA CIUDAD (A WOMAN, A MAN, A CITY, 1978) (to be reviewed in a later issue) are two leading examples of films which encourage a critical evaluation of contemporary Cuban problems in presentation as well as content.

Cuban filmmakers have used many formal devices in their attempt to convert the audience from passive consumer into active participant. The Bazinian realism of the first postrevolutionary feature, Tomás Gutierrez Alea's HISTORIAS DE LA REVOLUCIÓN (STORIES FROM THE REVOLUTION, 1960), soon gave way to more self-reflexive forms, affirming the Brechtian paradox that dislocation and distancing, rather than unbroken identification, increase the conscious and critical participation of the spectator. Formal self-consciousness, initially apparent in the allusions to leading world filmmakers in the early feature THE DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT (1966) and in the apparently casual farce of Garcia Espinosa's THE ADVENTURES OF JUAN QUIN QUIN (1967), has subsequently found expression in multiple self-reflexive devices. Garcia Espinosa's feature length documentary THIRD WORLD, THIRD WORLD WAR (1970) incorporates the actual filmmaking process into the finished picture, as do the more recent features BAY OF PIGS (Manuel Herrera, 1972) and MELLA (Enrique Pineda Barnet, 1975). Established film genres are often parodied and subverted: the Hollywood war movie in BAY OF PIGS; the ahistorical Latin melodrama in THE OTHER FRANCISCO (Sergio Giral, 1974). Octavio Cortazar's poignant account of one mountain community's first exposure to moving pictures — FOR THE FIRST TIME (1967) — is an early example of the film-within-a-film device. WITH THE CUBAN WOMEN (1974), a recent documentary by the same director (reviewed in Part Two) opens with startling disjunction between aural and visual information. Films like MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (1968), LUCÍA (1968), and THE OTHER FRANCISCO (1974) are characterized by a marked shift between lyricized and naturalistic visual styles. Experimentation with film stock, laboratory techniques, lighting, and camera lenses accounts for the visual expressionism of films like Manuel Octavio Gomez's THE FIRST CHARGE OF THE MACHETE (1969), Part I of Solas's LUCÍA (1968), and the same director's first color film, SIMPARELE (1974) (reviewed in this issue), as well as many of the Alvarez documentaries. Other self-reflexive devices include the experimentation with musical and nonmusical sound and the print medium which also characterizes Alvarez's work and that of several other directors and, finally, the dramatization of the documentary form through the appropriation of narrative techniques traditionally associated with fictional filmmaking as in shorts like Alejandro Saderman's HOMBRES DE MAL TIEMPO (MEN FROM MAL TIEMPO, 1968) and Oscar Valdes's MUERTE Y VIDA EN EL MORRILLO (DEATH AND LIFE IN EL MORRILLO, 1971). The reverse of this operation informs films like MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (1968), THE OTHER FRANCISCO (1974), BAY OF PIGS (1972), and ONE WAY OR ANOTHER (1974/1977).

But formal self-reflexiveness is not a sine qua non of Cuban film production. As Jorge Fraga, head of artistic production at ICAIC, puts it,

"We are not in favor of firing merely for the pleasure of hearing the shot. We shoot in order to hit the target."

Many recent films seem to have subordinated issues of formal candor to other considerations and other goals. Gutierrez Alea's THE LAST SUPPER (1977) and Sergio Giral's THE BOUNTY HUNTER (l977) — to choose two examples in marked contrast to earlier works by the same directors — both subscribe to a much more traditional narrative style. The power of Hollywood's "transparent" style continues to fascinate the Cubans, whose goal is to use that capacity to galvanize an audience for less ideologically veiled and manipulative ends. Another factor which might account for this partial change in stylistic emphasis is, paradoxical as it may seem, the Cubans' commitment to experimentation. More than one Cuban filmmaker has exclaimed with pride during an interview,

"I never repeat myself. Each of my films uses a different approach to fulfill different goals."

In a society which derives its vitality from a constant spirit of reexamination and renewal, even apparently conventional strategies can be used in innovative ways.

ICAIC's leadership stresses each film's potential for "communicability" (comuicabilidad) as the crucial determinant of its worth but continues to recognize multiple strategies for achieving this end. In Julio Garcia Espinosa's words, the greatest responsibility of Cuban filmmakers is to create a kind of cinema

"where the human factor, imagination and talent are more important than technical considerations; where artistic conception is completely in tune with actual existing resources." [7]

However impressive the quantity and quality of current film production in a country which had no national film industry only two decades ago, this is but one aspect of a comprehensive national file program whose primary goals are universal film literacy and universal access to the medium. In keeping with the priority placed on human development over technical acquisition in the production sector, scarce financial resources channeled into exhibition in the early years were concentrated on expenditures which would provide the largest number of uninitiated viewers with access to film. Faced with the dire shortage of movie theaters in rural areas, and the financial and temporal obstacles to constructing the number needed, the Cubans devised the famous "mobile cinemas." Trucks, mule teams, even small boats, fitted out with projection equipment and stocked with an eclectic repertoire of film titles, were sent to the most remote sections of the island. In more densely populated regions, topical film "cycles" are continually presented at eleven theaters throughout the island. This program, run by the Cinemateca de Cuba, a division of ICAIC, provides films for 100,000 spectators per week —presumably a world's record for an institution of its kind. Two national television programs provide ongoing education in film history, language, and technique, as Enrique Colina, host of one of the shows, explains in an interview in the following pages.

Though the prevalence of praxis (filmmaking and active organizational work) over theoretical deliberation in written fore has been characteristic of the Film Institute to date, ICAIC's contribution to film theory has been far from negligible. Alfredo Guevara, founder and director of ICAIC, has continually given ideological direction and theoretical orientation through speeches and essays. His leadership has been a guiding force not only within Cuba but for militant filmmakers throughout Latin America.

Efforts to define in writing the nature and role of film in a revolutionary society began in 1960 with the first issues of the Cuban film magazine Cine cubano, and related deliberations continue to appear in its pages. The first theoretical formulation to generate broad impact outside the island was Julio García Espinosa's "For an Imperfect Cinema" (1970). The essay grew out of the experience of filming THIRD WORLD, THIRD WORLD WAR (1970) in Vietnam at the height of the U.S. assault. The perils of the process, combined with the lessons learned, gave rise to an exceptionally spontaneous mode of file production and led the director to reflect on the particular characteristics and potentials of filmmaking in a Third World context. García Espinosa has subsequently written several other essays which attempt to build a bridge between practice and theory. His own films are a primary example of the unity of the two, consistently raising theoretical issues in a manner which never ceases to capture the spectator's interest. (Part II of the Jump Cut Special Section on Cuban Cinema will contain an analysis of García Espinosa's work.) Given the amount of material resources and released time from production responsibilities which sustained theoretical inquiry requires, it is understandable that the members of the ICAIC have only now begun to attain a level of financial security and organizational development which permits them to contemplate a commitment to theoretical inquiry on a large scale.

The evolution of ICAIC

My research suggests a tentative chronological division into four periods: l959-1960, 1960-1969, 1970-1974, 1975-1978. The initial period, from 1959 to 1960, was characterized by explosive optimism and a great sense of release, by the jubilant return of many exiled artists, the influx of foreign talent, and the artistic debut of many young and untried nationals. Enthusiastic organizational activity included the founding of ICAIC and the nationalization of all film-related holdings in foreign hands. The attitude of the government and the population at large was one of uncritical enthusiasm for artistic and intellectual activity of all sorts. Among the artists themselves, united-front politics predominated. The first film efforts were generally celebrative works in an epic or journalistic style which focused on the trajectory and triumph of the insurrection and on the corruption and injustice of the former regime.

In the second period, 1960 to 1969, the concept of revolutionary art and of the revolutionary artist became gradually more defined through a series of debates and polemics as well as the lived experience of the Revolution. Ideological maturation and intensified class conflict began to curb the atmosphere of undiscriminating permissiveness in the artistic sector. The concept of art as praxis and of the artist as militant participant rather than detached observer began to dominate. The broad and initially uncritical assimilation of foreign models, the virtually unlimited hospitality to visiting artists and intellectuals, and the attentive quest for their approval gave way to a more critical stance and to the growing influence of artistic inspiration from national sources and other Third World countries — particularly other Latin American nations — in preference to the developed sector.

At the beginning of this period, the prevalence of visiting foreign filmmakers at ICAIC and the organization's involvement in a number of co-productions with various countries contributed to a rather superficial and exoticized interpretation of Cuban culture. The celebration of "One Hundred Years of Struggle" in 1968 commemorating the fight for national autonomy which began a century before sparked a much richer and more penetrating analysis of national history and identity. The pervasive influence of Italian Neorealism in the early sixties and the fascination with the French New Wave in mid-decade had, by the end of this period, given way to broad-based stylistic experimentation and characteristically Cuban eclecticism. By 1964, the Cuban documentary was beginning to gain international attention through the work of Santiago Alvarez and others. Fictional production came into its own four years later with the release of MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT and LUCIA.

This period also saw signs of diminishing tolerance for a liberal interpretation of artistic freedom and responsibility. For numerous reasons, the process of defining the role of art in a revolutionary socialist society met with more difficulties in the realm of letters, with its centuries-long tradition of isolated individual production, than in the film sector or the other more cooperative and social arts. The tensions between individual ambition and the needs of the collectivity were played out between the years 1967 and 1971 in the life and career of one particular poet, Heberto Padilla, who became a cause celebre in the capitalist press. [8]

The failure of the projected ten-million-ton sugar harvest in 1970 brought about a critical reappraisal of policies and priorities in all sectors of society, beginning with Fidel himself and including ICAIC and other cultural agencies. The period between 1970 and 1974 saw an increased emphasis on mass participation and the search for more indigenous cultural forms. Elitism and manifestations of artistic privilege were rejected in favor of an attempt to define and produce a genuine people's culture. At ICAIC there was a consequent decline — by no means absolute — in formal experimentation, which had reached a peak of virtuosity in the late sixties. The emphasis on documentary production extended during these 19 years to the realm of feature-length films, where for the first time nonfictional subjects outnumbered fictional ones.

The consequences of the broad administrative and economic reorganization which began in 1975, motivated by the first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party held that year, and specifically the results of the efforts toward centralization, rationalization, and cost accounting in the cultural sector are not yet clear. During the current period (1975-l978) ICAIC has undergone numerous administrative and organizational changes. The former include the incorporation of Alfredo Guevara and Julio Garcia Espinosa into the new Ministry of Culture and the irrevocable loss of Saul Yelin, chief of international relations since the early days of ICAIC, who in early 1977, at the age of forty-two, died in his office of a heart attack.

Founder Alfredo Guevara recognizes the difficulty of preserving the close-knit environment of ICAIC given its expanding size, but the pressures to increase the quantity of films produced are many. Worthy projects, necessary financial resources, large and enthusiastic audiences all exist; there is simply a shortage of filmmakers to meet this demand. The training of scores of analistas (apprentices) is one strategy for filling this need. Beginning in 1975, large numbers of university graduates (the majority of them women) began to enter ICAIC to do everything from film criticism to script research and assistant directing. Many of ICAIC's future directors will be drawn from these ranks. The cine de aficcionados (amateur filmmakers') movement, developed during these years, may prove to be another means of creating new filmmakers.

Other departments within ICAIC have also been active during this period. The Centro de Información, under the direction of José Antonio Gonzalez, has made significant progress in the analysis of audience response and the development of means to ensure the maximum exposure and effectiveness for the films produced. Cine cubano, the most important film magazine of the Spanish-speaking world, resumed publication in 1978 after a four-year hiatus that has been attributed to production changeovers and the general reorganization of ICAIC.

Production has been rising steadily. According to cameraman Jorge Haydu, the changeover from black and white to total color production (with the exception of the Latin American Newsreel) is a decision with far-reaching, even "revolutionary" consequences for ICAIC's production. The feature-length documentary continues to play an important role, but there is a growth of interest in fictional features as well, as demonstrated, for example, in the release of EL BRIGADISTA (THE LITERACY TEACHER, 1977), the first feature by leading documentarist Octavio Cortazar, and PATTY/CANDELA (1976) by Rogelio Paris, as well as fictional projects now in progress by documentarists Manuel Herrera and Pastor Vega. With Juan Padron's Elpidio Valdes series, begun in 1973 with UNA AVENTURA DE ELPIDIO VALDES (AN ADVENTURE WITH ELPIDIO VALDES), animation also assumes a more important role. The appearance of promising young directors like Rigoberto Lopez (APUNTES PARA LA HISTORIA DEL MOVIMIENTO OBRERO CUBANO [NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF THE CUBAN WORKERS MOVEMENT, 1975]; LA LANZA DE LA NACIÓN [SPEAR OF THE NATION, 1977]), Orlando Rojas (DÍA TRAS DÍA [DAY AFTER DAY, 1977]), Victor Casaus (ALICIA, 1976), Rolando Diaz and Daniel Diaz Torres (both currently working on ICAIC's Latin American Newsreel), and screenwriter Marisol Trujillo, among others, bears great promise for the "third generation" of Cuban filmmakers — a generation which should reflect, in its racial and sexual composition, the achievements of twenty years of revolution in the area of social equality.

The Cubans have tried to balance the needs of the collectivity with those of personal creative expression through their commitment to worker's control and the collective evaluation of each other's work, as well as through the high degree of initiative granted to the director. Conciencia (sociopolitical awareness and sense of responsibility) and sujectividad (personal artistic judgment) are the dual components of the creative process. It is important to remember that although the principal ideological struggle is waged against imperialism and the dehumanizing oppression of the capitalist system, ideological debate is a constant within ICAIC as well — a fact which helps to account for the continuing vitality of the organization. The combination of concrete material prerequisites and the less tangible ones related to psychological and personal well-being, results of Cuba's revolutionary process, have succeeded in abolishing the antagonism and alienation between the individual artist and his or her social context. Director Tomás Gutierrez Alea has attempted to formulate his perception of the kind of creative freedom which Cuban filmmakers enjoy:

"We [at ICAIC] feel united around an idea and involved in implementing it together … This sense of freedom which we feel in working together is a completely different experience from the purely individual creative freedom so precious to people in capitalist society."

"I have to say that, for me, what I might achieve as an individual director is no more important than what the whole group of us here at ICAIC achieves together. In order to find my own personal fulfillment, I need the existence of the entire Cuban film movement as well … In a situation like ours, the collective achievement is just as important as the personal one." [9]


1. While this special section was being prepared, several events contributed to making Cuban film culture more accessible to North American audiences. Half a dozen newly imported Cuban films were screened from coast to coast last spring in conjunction with the arrival of the first delegation of Cuban cineastes: documentarist Santiago Alvarez, actress Alma Sanchez, and critic Mayra Vilasis Rodón. In June, some thirty North American film critics, scholars, and journalists went to Cuba for a week of film screenings and discussions at ICAIC. Some of the fruits of this intensified exchange promise to grace the pages of a second Special Section on Cuban Cinema in the next issue of Jump Cut.

Titles initially given in Spanish indicate films not yet in distribution in English. For distribution information, see the "Guide to Cuban Films in U.S. Distribution" in the next issue.

Portions of this essay are taken from a monograph on Cuban cinema which will be published in Spain as part of a collaborative book entitled Los cines de America latina, under the editorship of Guy Hennebelle and Alfonso Gumucio Dagrón (Fernando Torres: Valencia, 1979).

2. Source: Granma Weekly Review, January 1977: "Film production from 1959-1976."

3. Santiago Alvarez habla de su cine," Hablemos de cine 54 (Lima) (July-August 1970):39.

4. Tomás Gutierrez Alea, "Memorias del subdesarrolo: Notas de trabajo," Cine cubano 45-46 (Havana) (1968): 24-25.

5. Francis Ford Coppola, "Robert Scheer Inverviews Francis Ford Coppola on Cuba, Castro, Communism and the Mafia " City of San Francisco 9 (21) (December 2, 1975): 22.

6. Cited in Marjorie Rosen, "The Great Cuban Fiasco," Saturday Review, June 17, 1972, p. 53.

7. Julio Garcia Espinosa, "Cinco preguntas a ICAIC," Cine al día 12 (Caracas) (March 1971): 22.

8. Ecomomist Ernest Mandel has aptly stated the disturbing observation, "Intellectuals, as a social group, necessarily occupy an ambiguous position. Attracted by the ideals of justice and rationality embodied in the cause of the socialist revolution, the inevitable sacrifices, the continuous efforts, and the 'leveling egalitarianism' implied in the same revolution make them pull back." "Intellectuals and the Third World," Intercontinental Press, September 28, 1970, p. 801; reprinted in Tricontinental [Havana], May-June, 1971; cited in Latin America: The Struggle with Dependency and Beyond, ed. R. Chilcote and J. Edelstein, Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1974.

Tolerance for dissention from within and criticism from without was substantially constricted during this period. There are many reasons why Cuba continued to perceive itself as a nation under siege. Some of the conditions at the time include the following:

  • the failure of the ten-million-ton sugar harvest of 1970 and the severity of the resulting economic and political dislocation
  • the continuing blockade imposed by the U.S.
  • the persistent CIA campaigns against the regime which ranged, as has recently been revealed, from the bizarre but effective infestation of the entire pig population of Havana province in 1271 to several attempts on Fidel's life
  • the freelance attacks by bands of exiles on the coastal population and fishing vessels.

The arrest and imprisonment of poet Herberto Padilla in March 1971 is a sort of emblem of this period of crisis, a drastic expedient which provoked widespread criticism inside Cuba as well as abroad. Though the degree of his commitment to the revolutionary transformation of Cuba had been under question for ten years prior to his five weeks in jail, as demonstrated by incidents in 1961, 1968, 1969, and 1970, today Padilla continues to work and write in Cuba. Outside of Cuba, whether or not he is worthy of such distinction, he continues to stand as a symbol of the challenge to individual freedoms under socialism.

For translations of two of Padilla's more recent poems, see the November 23 issue of The New York Review of Books. For further background and documentation, see Lourdes Casal, El caso Padillo: Literatura y Revolución en Cuba: Documentos (Miami: Nueva Atlantida, 1971), and Herberto Padilla, Fuera del juego (Outside of the Game) (Buenos Aires: Aditor, 1969). Many of the poems in that collection are included in Sent off the Field: A Selection of the Poetry of Herberto Padillo, trans. J. M. Cohen (London: Deutsch, 1972).

In the past several years, the North American left has demonstrated widespread concern regarding issues of personal and specifically sexual freedom in Cuba. For a more extensive discussion of these complex questions, see the "Critical Dialogue" section of this issue.

9. Julianne Burton, "Individual Fulfillment and Collective Achievement: An Interview with Tomás Gutierrez Alea," Cineaste, 8(1) (Summer 1977).