(Un Traductor. Foto: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini)
It’s that time of the year again, where we shout out Cuban filmmakers being featured at the Sundance Film Festival. Given the fact that there is really not much of an independent film scene in Cuba (more on that later), I find it miraculous when I discover a new name risen from obscurity, defeating all odds, slaying dragons, and making it to the top of that film mountain…. Park City, that is. Bravo to these mavericks.
In 2018, the Cuban stories screening seem less about the changing country today, and more about backstories drawn from their childhood. Specifically, both these tales were inspired by their father (this is an unrelated coincidence, and just an observation).
Last year, 2017 Sundance saw many more stories about Cuba TODAY, from short docs at the Wifi Park, to the new home-buyers market, to a well-attended English language school awaiting “la Yuma”. Let’s not forget Give Me Future, about the Havana concert performance by Major Lazer. The 2017 Cuban slate were all about the future.
This year, however, Sundance selections force us to view Cuban narratives from the inside, that is, personal stories. Here’s two to keep an eye on.
Un Traductor (A Translator)
In Competition for International Features is Un Traductor. Director Sebastian Barriuso tells the brave (and soul-crushing) tale of his father in Cuba during 1989, “a professor of Russian literature who was ordered out of the classroom and into the hospital”, to serve as a translator between dying children, their parents, & medical staff after the Chernobyl explosion. Rodrigo Santoro (of Westworld) plays the lead. In those years, Cuba developed a program for hospitalizing and treating the children from this international tragedy. If you don’t know about the real life incident, read about the Chernobyl Disaster, which is a cautionary tale on Nuclear accidents. Un Traductor is the story of a family man pulled into the center of this trauma. “Whether Malin’s life was enriched or destroyed by his assignment was never part of the greater equation” reads The Hollywood Reporter (read the full review here). The film was a Canadian-Cuban production, produced by Creative Artisans Media.
Screening Times at Sundance:
Fri. 1/19, 2:30 p.m., Prospector, PC
Sat. 1/20, 1:00 p.m., Redstone 2, PC
Sat. 1/20, 11:59 p.m., Tower, SLC
Mon. 1/22, 6:00 p.m., Sundance Resort, Provo
Thu. 1/25, 6:00 p.m., PC Library, PC
Fri. 1/26, 10:00 a.m., Holiday 4, PC
For more info on cast & crew, visit Sundance listing.
El Pescador (The Fisherman)
El Pescador is a short film about a fathers love and sacrifice to put his daughter before himself. Of all the information I’ve sought on this film, the most striking overview was an article and Q&A by Remezcla. “Well, my dad is a fisherman. This is a story that’s very much about us.” says the Director. “So this was a way to give my father a kind of gift because he sacrificed so much for us. In fact, he’s an economist but in the 90’s things were so difficult here in Cuba that professionals everywhere had to find other sources of income.” And so this short story begins…
Fri. 1/19, 9:00 p.m., Temple, PC
Sat. 1/20, noon, Broadway 6, SLC
Sat. 1/20, 9:30 p.m., Redstone 1, PC
Fri. 1/26, 1:00 p.m., Holiday 4, PC
Will play with a few other shorts, details here.
Manuel Betancout interviews director Ana A. Alpizar about the deeper context of indie filmmaking in Cuba. “Well, the short was financed by money coming from foreign — actually European — embassies. That’s what is mostly financing independent cinema in Cuba right now.” says the aspiring female Cuban director. “The Netherlands embassy gave us some money. A contest called GO CUBA!, it’s a very famous contest. Then, there’s a fund set up at the Norway embassy which also gave us some financing. And there was also some money from a fund for young Cuban filmmakers. The thing is, as an independent producer, you don’t really exist at the legal level. You’re not accredited that way.”. To read more details on this conversation, visit Remezcla’s Q&A.
So just like that, in an effort to dive inward into people’s backstories, we find ourselves once again faced with Cuba TODAY. In order to understand how each filmmaker actually made their film, you have to understand the legal barriers they face today.
For example, by todays law, a non-Cuban and a Cuban are not allowed on a boat vessel together in Cuba (this obviously posed a conundrum for Ana’s shoot schedule, thereby disallowing her sound guy to jump on board). Also, in order for both these films to have been made, Cuban filmmakers had to seek financial support from outside. Independent Cinema is not quite recognized according to Cuban Institutions, yet it is this exact indie scene on the island that is bubbling with creativity. “But what is happening still is that the Cuban government still won’t recognize them; they won’t play their movies. They have no legal standing. You, as an independent producer, don’t exist. You can’t apply to any kind of grants or funds [in Cuba]”, she tells the writer.
So how easy is it to just apply for outside grants? “These Dutch funds — you actually have to apply to them as an individual, not as a film producer. You can’t apply to these bigger funds unless you partner up with a foreign producer or set up a production company outside of Cuba” says the diligent filmmaker who finally formed a film collective outside of Cuba called Fila20. She loves her homeland and stresses that she’d like to tell more stories from inside the island. There is supposed to be an official body called “Ley de Cine” (Law of Cinema) to oversee all filmmakers but she mentioned that the government doesn’t really adhere to those standards. “And in that sense, Cuban independent cinema is wholly excluded, which is very sad. Because what happens is that a lot of talented people just end up leaving”.
The other director Barriuso moved to Toronto Ontario while his brother Rodrigo still spends lots of time in Cuba. So after wrapping my head around both these films, I actually walked away with a deeper understanding of their struggles. Not only the yesteryear struggles, but todays struggles.
Welcome to Sundance, aseres. To infinity and beyond.