Utah is getting a big injection of Cuban fever at the start of 2017. We’ve spent the better part of the year reading about the importance of Cuba/US engagement from media outlets like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and a myriad of other outlets. Journalists have played an important role in opening this discussion while reporting a balanced story line.
This Jan 2017, it’s the filmmakers and artists who will show us what exactly engagement looks like. We’ll see curious cameras entering homes, filmmakers having “on the ground” discussions with every day Cubans, and putting a mirror up to Cuban society. None of the films are about the normalization process per say, but each of the tales are of everyday life — an American concert on the malecon, the only State-run phone company in Cuba (ETECSA), the selling of a home in Cuba, and a school that teaches English to Cubans, and more. Because all these films were captured in 2016, it is all the more reason to pay attention to what these local Cubans are expressing as we enter the Trump administration in 2017. It will take an act of Congress to fully lift the US embargo, but the more that Americans understand Cuban society today, the better it will respond to its needs in order to grow and prosper in this new era. We cannot affect Cuban policy, but we CAN affect American policy through phonecalls to our legislators, and shifting the American consciousness towards a more open relationship with Cuba. Of course Cuba will need to determine their own future, but these films are a peek into a society seeking to redefine itself.
(Casa en Venta – a short film on the the new real estate sector for homeowners)
I’m lucky enough to have worked on two of these films (Films #1 and #2 below) which will premiere at the festival this January, one as a Story Producer and the other as a Cuba Production Consultant. Upon entering Pre-Production, each of the teams asked a bevy of questions which opened healthy dialogue — including the current state of Cuba, its relation to the US, its complex history, its challenges with filmmaking, the US Embargo laws, the tone of questions permitted, the current reforms in Cuba, the spectrum of characters, etc. etc. It seems that answering one question in Cuba begets another 50 questions. Something as simple as weak internet on the island poses enormous challenges during production, including emailing local staff or sending large files to the States. It’s a rabbit hole of lessons, but each production diligently pressed forward and managed to capture their stories with tight deadlines, frustrating conditions, an open heart, and limited budgets. Together, both films bookmark the gamut of the population today — from the elder tales of Buena Vista Social Club to the hungry young tech scene of Major Lazer’s audience. One film presents the bowing out of an older generation, while the other film introduces the future of Cuba. Both generations are very dear to me, and both being an honor to explore with Directors Austin and Lucy respectively (and their film families) who all came to Cuba in 2016.
(Conectifai – a short film on Cuba’s phone company and internet status)
The other 3 films playing at the Sundance Film Festival this January are mini docs, but despite their short length, they are all paramount stories to explore in Cuba today. These include the story of technology today (the phone company and the emerging internet), the new home “buyers market”, and the tale of a small school that teaches Cubans to speak English as they prepare to work with “La Yuma” (nickname for the Americans).
All three storylines share the urgency of Cuba’s desire to integrate into the global economy and international community. The most interesting part of these 3 shorts is that it was nurtured by an American Institute, Sundance Labs (who attended the Havana Film Festival the last two Decembers to workshop scripts and stories with local filmmakers). Together, the 3 shorts are presented as a collection entitled “Made in Cuba”, an an example of the Sundance Institute’s “longstanding commitment to international artists” says Paul Federbush who spearheads the lab. These films were guided by the Institute’s Documentary Film Program in collaboration with La Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV (EICTV) and Guardian documentaries.
… and now a breakdown of all 5 films:
1- Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba – Director: Austin Peters / USA – FEATURE FILM
In the spring of 2016, global music sensation Major Lazer performed a free concert in Havana, Cuba—an unprecedented show that drew an audience of almost half a million. This concert documentary evolves into an exploration of youth culture in a country on the precipice of change. World Premiere U.S.A., Cuba
Austin Peters is a director living in New York. Raised in Los Angeles, he went on to study film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has directed two short-form documentaries: Braids, starring Lupita Nyong’o for Vogue, and NYC, 1981, a companion piece to the recent film A Most Violent Year. His music videos for Chvrches’ “Empty Threat” was named one of the 10 best music videos of 2015 by Rolling Stone
2- Buena Vista Social Club Doc / “Untitled” -Dir: Lucy Walker / USA,UK-FEATURE FILM
The musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club exposed the world to Cuba’s vibrant culture with their landmark 1997 album. Now, against the backdrop of Cuba’s captivating musical history, hear the band’s story as they reflect on their remarkable careers and the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together. World Premiere.
Lucy Walker is an Emmy Award–winning director and two-time Academy Award–nominee. She is renowned for creating riveting, character-driven nonfiction that delivers emotionally and narratively. Her films—including Waste Land, The Crash Reel, Devil’s Playground, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, and The Lion’s Mouth Opens—have won over 100 awards and honors. Her new film, the untitled Buena Vista Social Club documentary, is her fifth feature (and ninth film) to screen in official Sundance Film Festival selection.
3- “Connection” or “Conectifai” – Dir: Zoe Garcia
ETECSA—Cuba’s only telephone company—installed Wi-Fi routers in 18 public parks in 2016. For many Cubans, this meant being able to go online for the first time. Now connected to a technology that is entirely new to them, we see how Cubans explore social media, online dating, and the ability to reconnect with family members living just 90 miles away. U.S. Premiere
Director Zoe Garcia graduated in mass communication studies, specializing in photography, at the Higher Institute of Art in Havana, Cuba. In 2008 she took a course on documentary cinema and TV at the International School of Film and TV in Cuba. Garcia has worked as a screenwriter, assistant director, and photographer.
4- Film: “Great Muy Bien” – Dir: Sheyla Pool
After the United States restored diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, it was no longer unrealistic for Cubans to dream of one day living and working abroad. Citizens of all ages, with diverse aspirations, enroll at the makeshift Big Ben English school in Havana in order to prepare themselves for a future of normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.
Director Sheyla Pool graduated from the University of Havana in Hispanic languages and in sound from the International School of Film and TV at San Antonio de los Baños. She wrote and directed Protege a tu familia and Frágil. Pool was a consultant for the script of Esteban. Currently she is working on the script for Vínculos.
5- “Casa en Venta” or “House for Sale” – Dir: Emanuel Giraldo
After over 50 years, the ban disallowing citizens of Cuba from selling their own houses is lifted. Three Cuban families invite us into their homes as a showcase to prospective buyers — to hear their “sales pitch.” Filled with memories, souvenirs, and family members, these intimate spaces are filled with affection, highlighting a country on the verge of historical change.
Director Emanuel Giraldo Betancur was born in Medellin, Columbia in 1989 and graduated in film directing from the International School of Cinema and Television. Some of his projects are 1,2,3. . . Let’s Dance! and Amapearte. In December 2015, he participated in Nuevas Miradas in Cuba with House for Sale (2016 Sheffield Doc/Fest), which was supported by Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.
Stay tuned for more information as these films screen at the festival (or follow @TheNewCuba on Instagram for live activities).
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