Friday, February 20, 2015

Cuba Is Teeming With Talent, But Its Film Business Needs Reforms

Cuba Is Teeming With Talent, But Its Film Business Needs Reforms
FEBRUARY 19, 2015 | 10:00AM PT
Paul Duran

Since President Obama eased tensions with Cuba late last year, the film
community in the island nation has been optimistic, if cautiously so,
about striking new relationships with its counterpart in Hollywood, and
hopeful it can reform the Cuban film industry to compete on the world stage.

"Many (American) directors have expressed — more or less privately —
their interest in filming in Cuba," says Luis Barrera, senior advisor at
the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry (ICAIC), the
government-run film commission that, in essence, acts as the sole movie
studio in Cuba. "On the other hand, Cuba has its own tradition in
cinema, and is among the leading lights in the Caribbean region," he
adds. Helmers like Alejandro Brugues ("Juan of the Dead") and Daniel
Diaz Torres ("La Pelicula de Ana") are some filmmakers who've gained
international recognition.

Barrera notes that it's also important for Cuba to build an efficient
and competitive infrastructure, with professional crews experienced not
only in local productions, but in co-productions with Europeans. "This
is one aspect we can quickly work on, as well as looking toward
investments and joint ventures, including tax rebates and other
incentives to attract U.S. filmmakers," Barrera says.

Local filmmakers, though, worry that ICAIC will prioritize the needs of
foreign productions that want to film in Cuba over the needs to develop
those of the nation's own creative talent.

"The first step should be to see how Cuban cinema can flourish from this
relationship on its home turf, and hopefully not get swallowed up by the
great machinery of the U.S. film industry," says Carlos Quintela, whose
second film, "The Project of the Century," about three generations of a
Cuban family living near an abandoned Soviet nuclear power station, won
a Tiger award at Rotterdam after being acquired for international sales
by Berlin-based M-Appeal.

Filmmaker Yassel Iglesias, who made 2012 doc "The Chosen Island," about
Jewish emigres in Cuba, which ultimately brought him to the U.S., sees
progress coming only after regulations ease. "I think that (reform) will
definitely help the production of Cuban films," says Iglesias, "but I
can't use the phrase 'Cuban film industry' yet, because so far there
have been no reforms or laws that recognize new independent companies,
and the only 'industry' is ICAIC, which many Cuban filmmakers refuse to
work with."

Many Cuban filmmakers have had to seek funding overseas. Quintela, a
former student at the Intl. Film and Television School (EICTV) in
Havana, started a production company in England and raised coin for
"Project of the Century" from Argentina (with production shingle Rizoma
Films), as well as tapping coin from the Rotterdam fest's Hubert Bals Fund.

At its heart, Cuba is a warm, welcoming nation full of vast promise and
rich potential, yearning for opportunity, both economically and
artistically. Despite its communist roots, the country has an
entrepreneurial spirit, built of raw necessity plus a desire to make its
own way, without an intrusive government or an overbearing next-door

For now, the greatest obstacle to rebuilding the local film industry may
well be the lack of freedom of expression. The promise that a diplomatic
thaw would change that took a blow when Boris Arenas Gonzalez, a
professor at EICTV, was fired after being jailed for attempting to
participate in a free-speech-themed performance-art event. Especially
troubling is that the school, which has an international charter, has
been a beacon of free speech in Cuba for students and filmmakers from
around the world.

The hope is that this is a momentary blip on the radar, and that the
thawing of relations with the U.S. will bring more free expression and
less government intervention. "I think it's a historical change that
presents opportunities and challenges to both nations," says Barrera.

Quintela agrees. "If we were to combine the shared histories of both
countries, there would be enough material to create movies of great

For Iglesias, who just finished shooting his latest film, "Lois" in
Havana, the future is already beginning to take shape. "There's more
hope, and Cubans need that. A year ago, nobody thought of change, and to
find a smile on the streets was harder. Today people scream, 'Ya somos
amigos de los Yuma!' — Now we are friends with the Americans! And there
is laughter, and rum … of course."

Source: Cuba's Film Business Is in Need of Reforms, Looser Censorship |
Variety -

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