He wrote and directed more than twenty features, documentaries, and short films, which are known for his sharp insight into post-Revolutionary Cuba, and possess a delicate balance between dedication to the revolution and criticism of the social, economic, and political conditions of the country. The movement rejected both the commercial perfection of the Hollywood style, and the auteur-oriented European art cinema, for a cinema created as a tool for political and social change. The movement's main goal was to create films in which the viewer became an active, self-aware participant in the discourse of the film. Viewers were presented with an analysis of a current problem within society that as of that time had no clear solution, hoping to make the audience aware of the problem and to leave the theater willing to become actors of social change. As ardent supporters of the Revolution, ICAIC was a filmmaker's collective which believed film to be the most important modern art form and the best medium to distribute revolutionary thought to the masses.
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Translated by Julia Lesage. The echos of France's May '68 resonated through all Europe and in some places, like Italy, were being felt with renewed fury. Cannes had already suffered the onslaught of May. A lot of intellectuals solemnly proclaimed their decision to commit suicide as a class.
Really, few of them really did it, but at that moment, anyone might have believed them because everything that was happening was so unusual and lovely — too lovely. Venice also was shaken by the spreading wave.
The shocks within the superstructure were spectacular and revealing, and affected in terms of the film festivals what would happen at Pesaro. Evidently, in this case it wasn't a bourgeois festival. There weren't any stars there to exhibit themselves and the starlets wouldn't have the chance to do their little numbers to attract producers' attention. There'd be no gala reception or cocktails. We were outsiders in terms of prizes, businessmen's greediness, advertising, and the "big world," On the contrary, here the most restless filmmakers got together — the "independent ones," those who were trying to pull film out of the crisis of superficiality, conformity and commercialism.
There they made their work known and established contacts, which were almost always fruitful, and took part in a real confrontation of ideas. I remember the first panels where Metz, Pasolini, Barthes and others argued about film and linguistics and later, little by little, ever more about film politics.
I remember Brasilian cinema novo , New American Cinema, underground filmmaking, parallel cinema, militant cinema, revolutionary cinema. From the beginning there, you could learn about the works made within that spirit of renewal that was coursing through the cinema of various countries.
People also found out about Latin American cinema at Pesaro. In effect, it was a festival of the Left. Nevertheless, that year people questioned Pesaro, too. A race had broken out between different groups to see who was furthest Left.
Everyone was talking about "manipulation" and "instrumentalization," and you got the dangerous impression that the "Establishment" was a powerful monster capable of devouring anything and assimilating any rebellious manifestation.
At the same time fascist provocateur groups appeared who were ready to fish in the churning waters. Finally, of course, the "forces of law and order" came down violently against the festival participants who had gathered en masse in the plaza: tear gas, clubbing, broken heads, people running here and there through a labyrinth of narrow streets, and arrests.
The monster couldn't swallow it all so placidly. A few things got in its way, and it had to try to chew them up first. That police action defined the terms of the issue and facilitated the momentary uniting of the different progressive tendencies within a festival which remained "outside. I'm remembering all of this now because more than ten years have passed — plenty of time for a film to age, exhaust its possibilities for distribution, and be forgotten.
However, the exceptional reception which the film has had in the United States removes all our former doubts about how a system that is essentially hypocritical might manipulate a work. That encourages me to reflect a bit on the film and to define a few perspectives. Manipulation has become converted into a kind of evil spirit that can manifest itself when it's least on your mind, at the most unexpected moment, That constant threat weighs above all on those who want to express themselves in a given medium and whose action can have certain repercussions.
Essentially that gets translated into our healthy concern to not lose sight of the ground we are walking on, the values we're defending, and the enemies against whom we're fighting. That implies that we would have to be very ingenuous if we didn't know that there are actions which — in spite of the good faith in which they are executed — imply that the enemy will momentarily appropriate something of our arms.
Ingenuous or astute, filmmakers will always be prone, to a greater or lesser degree, to having their works be manipulated to fulfill the different interests of those who defend a given work.
It happens to a greater or lesser degree because truly some works are more manipulatable than others. Indeed, in passing, I'd point out that those who seem to adhere most to orthodox canons politically and ideologically, do not always turn out to be least susceptible to manipulation.
The year after its premier, an article appeared in a British film journal where you could read the following:. Evidently the critic unabashedly identified with the character Sergio, and along with Sergio he shared the destiny awaiting the bourgeoisie with the arrival of revolution.
As Allen writes,. A while later, in , the film received the U. National Film Critics award. Yet the government of that country refused to give me a visa to be able to attend the awards ceremony in New York. Unfortunately politics has imposed its authority on us, not just through the State Department's unfortunate nearsightedness but also through certain questionable political rhetoric used by the film's distributors Tricontinental Films.
I cite as an example, the following phrase heard during a recent press conference: 'Guitierrez Alea and his work are products of socialist Cuba. He would have been able to correct us about his future as a director. He also could, have contributed a high level educational experience to film students in the New York area. The critic Andrew Sarris clearly reveals a real weakness for all kinds of ambivalences. That seems quite clear. Aside from the lack information that plagued him in I'd already made another movie , the critic's "ambivalence" culminates a little later when he tosses fascists and communists together in the same sack as "victims of bureaucratic intolerance and black lists.
It follows from a whole way of thinking in the U. What you get then is the well-known phenomenon of "manipulation. It is in cinema that this mechanism is most objectively located. Filmmakers work with images and sounds, which constitute material capable of providing an illusion of reality — more so than the material unique to the other arts. Film isolates and separates fragments of reality from their original context and arranges them in such a way that they mean something specific — often something very different from what they meant in their original context.
Therefore we can say that cinema itself most obviously reveals what we could call the "art of manipulation. Each film, in turn, may respect the formal integrity of reality — i. Just taking things out of their original context allows us to see in them other things , so that the material filmed becomes charged with new meanings.
And finally what's important is to know if the work seeks to reveal, hide, or turn its back on the profound significance within the reality it's dealing with — that is, if "manipulation" goes on as a function of truth or deceit. Therefore, we have to keep in mind the changing significance of the cinematic spectacle, according to the concrete circumstances in which it establishes a relation with the public.
Different groups of spectators can understand the content in diverse ways, according to the ideology permeating each group. Thus, an advertising documentary produced in South Africa with the goal of attracting cheap labor for the sugar harvest from neighboring countries can be effective among certain groups dominated by the ideology which that relatively powerful country emits; it even might elicit some degree of admiration.
Nevertheless, a viewer's consciousness which has fundamentally broken with that ideology — bourgeois ideology in one of its most brutal and retrograde manifestations — will receive the documentary as a stimulus to reject not only the documentary's goal but also that whole world.
Thus, without having set out to do so, the film arrives at having a progressive function since it's turned into a testimony of denunciation against a tragic and unjust reality. Now we know that this term is highly ambiguous and contradictory in its most profound sense. You cannot be an effective leftist and at the same time be a liberal. But there are people who bear this label, and, of course, it's one of the most succulent little mouthfuls that the Establishment nourishes itself on.
And it's also a little mouthful that's relatively easy to digest, because the left liberal does not want to change the system but rather to make it function according to an ideal pattern. Liberals struggle — when and if they do — for the system's idea. Sometimes liberals go to the stake for a cause which has never fully comprehended them.
And that could cause me a certain amount of uneasiness, because I know that their praises are not necessarily calculated in terms of hidden interests, but rather are based on a healthy identification with what seems to them clear proof that within the framework of the Cuban revolution we still have room for criticism and dissent.
But once we get this far, we must be cautious. We must not make a mistake. We have to know how to distinguish between one thing and another. That's our task. We must also understand that the criticism going on inside a film like MEMORIES has nothing to do with criticism as its practiced from liberal positions of any type or shading.
Primarily the film is an example of militant cinema produced in a country where the revolution is in power. This fact perhaps requires a slight digression. Among our peoples, rebellion seems to be ripening on the scale of the whole continent.
Few countries keep up an appearance of stability. We've just finished experiencing Nicaragua's epic, and everything seems to indicate that this will not be the only one we'll live through in the next few years. Aside from the fact that living conditions throughout the world daily call out for, ever more urgently, essential changes, the examples of heroes are also contagious. In Cuba the revolution is in power. That means the conditions of the struggle have changed. What significance does film have in the middle of all of this?
Where and at what point does cinema become really important as a weapon serving the revolution? When can it only aspire to be merely a cultural support, whose "revolutionary effectiveness" seems less evident or only evident in the long run? The particular circumstances in each country determine the possibility of a genuinely revolutionary militant filmmaking practice. After executing all possible theoretical analyses, sometimes filmmakers do not sufficiently esteem the one decisive factor, the public.
Also, c1nema's militant character is circumstantial and it functions in terms of the public towards whom it is directed. This is so in two regards: first, if the film gets there materially, physically, i. Clearly in our country we have favorable conditions for developing militant cinema beyond merely supporting artistic culture. At the same time a militant filmmaking practice within the revolution, directed primarily by artists who share that historical circumstance, does not constitute a simple problem.
Above all that's true when we don't want to content ourselves with the traditional formulae which tend to outline and simplify reality as they hide behind their supposed exaltation of revolutionary values.
Above all, that's true when we're not content with useless rhetoric and when we assume that cinema provides an active and mobilizing element, one which stimulates participation in the revolutionary process.
Then it's not sufficient to have a moralistic cinema based on preaching and exhortation. We need a cinema that uplifts and stimulates people's critical faculty.
But how can we criticize and at the same time affirm the reality in which we are immersed? Let's look at the diverse aspects of that mechanism which a film ought to generate in relation to the public. The scenes behind the credits correspond to a popular dance. It might be a carnival dance, with hot music and a certain appearance of chaos and release. Suddenly we hear shots from a pistol, which can almost be confused with the music.
Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Dialéctica del Espectador
Productive Memory: “Forward Dreaming” in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cuban Films