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By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema 7 Comments »

Cubanos, Life and Death of a Revolution is an award-winning documentary by Canadian filmmaker Yan Giroux, recently issued on DVD by Documentary Educational Resources (DER). The film follows Cuban expatriate Catuey, a musician living in Montreal, in his quest to find hope for the future of his native country, both among Cubans in Cuba and among Cubans in South Florida. He finds none, but in the process he comes to appreciate his critical distance from both his past and what the future might hold for a nation that is the battleground for its government as well as for its exiles. The story is compelling, the cinematography is gorgeous, the narrative flows and the document achieves what few works about Cuba do, and that is a sort of distant intimacy so dear to the “professional stranger” (as Mike Agar called ethnographers). What follows is the film’s trailer and a short interview that I recently did with Yan Giroux.

AHR: When did you first go to Cuba and why?

YG: I went to Cuba for the first time for the shooting of the movie in 2005. Since it was a totally independent production, we could not afford to go to Cuba before the shooting. We did a good pre-production from Montreal with a lot of research and intensive talks with Catuey, our main character, who was very familiar with our shooting locations.
The first idea behind the movie was to ask Cubans about the future of their country after Fidel Castro’s death. Once in the editing room, Fidel fell sick and left the control of the country to Raul. The question of Fidel’s death was suddenly less relevant because most of the political hypotheses our interviewees made were confirmed or infirmed by that switch at the head of the government. I see that change of perspective as a very good thing because it allowed us to go deeper into contemporary Cuban identity by focusing on Catuey’s story. It also allowed me to develop a more complex cinematographic approach rather than a very classical and didactic approach that is more typical for TV documentaries.

AHR: Who is Catuey?

YG: Catuey is a Cuban musician who left the island legally in the 90’s. Since he left, his passion for the history of Cuba and its music has grown stronger. He lives in Montreal but he went back to Cuba a few times since he left. He doesn’t see Cuban history through black and white glasses that many Cubans wear if they’re on the left side or the right side of the political spectrum. He believes in the strength of Cuban culture and identity but he is afraid to see many elements of that culture disappear through the course of such a polarized history.

AHR: Was it his idea to do this film?

YG: No, we first contacted him as a researcher because it’s something he had already done with other productions. But his charisma mixed with a good fit of personalities made him the perfect interviewer/ character. We also realized that as Canadians, we would have a lot of difficulties to meet Cubans for the shooting of an illegal movie on Fidel Castro’s death… we were very naive at the beginning of the project. Even though it wasn’t his idea, he was implicated in every step of the movie.

AHR: Is the film his personal experience and is he the guiding story line?

YG:The film is based on his experience of making the movie and rediscovering his Cuban identity through the eyes of our interviewees which were both Cubans on the island and Cubans living in Miami. His reactions, his songs and all the emotions he’s going through as we travel through landscapes and history are the guiding story line, but it’s not only is personal experience and point of view, my look on him as a director/cameraman adds another layer to the story.

AHR: Is the film located mostly in Havana?

YG: The movie has two equal parts. The first part is located in Havana and surrounding countryside. The second part is located in Miami and Key West.

AHR: Did you also film in Miami? Where? How was the experience different from Cuba?

YG: In Miami, we shot in Little Havana, in the suburbs and we went as far as Key West. The experience was different from Cuba because we could work more freely and it was easier to meet people. But it was very hard for Catuey to meet the diasporas, as a neo-Canadian, he had a hard time with the Americanized Cuban culture and he even felt fear when we met some of the Cuban-American organizations.
He started the project looking for an idealistic vision of Cuba where the reconciliation between Cubans from both sides of the Caribbean sea was possible. Unfortunately, he ended the shooting tired and exhausted, wondering who and what will be left of Cuban culture after so many years of alienation through polarized political views.

AHR: What do you think your documentary brings to the foreign view on Cuba? I am sure you were aware that there are so many cliches (ruins, mulattas, revolutionary iconography, etc)

YG: The fact that it’s not driven by a thesis determined before the shooting has allowed us to stay really open-minded to what people were saying and the experiences we were living. And following a Neo-Canadian who meets Cubans from Cuba and Miami really helped to bring a different perspective on Cuban identity at the beginning of the 21st century. The plurality of visions that meet through the movie raises questions that many documentaries could not raise because they were based on clichés or on a political point of view.
My cinematographic approach brings that forward. Once in the editing room, I realized that some of the shots that looked banal at first glance were in fact very appropriate symbols to make sense with image and sound and not only with words.

Anthropological Collections in Cuban Museums

Anthropological institutions, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Journals 3 Comments »

I am not aware of any Museum of Anthropology in Cuba [other than the Montané Anthropological Museum in Havana, as Joaquin Estrada Montalván reminds me].* There are several museums that house artifacts related to folklore and religion, like the Guanabacoa Museum, the slave past, like the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo in Matanzas, or African traditions, like the Museo de la Casa de Africa. Then, there are museums that are dear to cultural anthropologists, like the Museum of the Battle of Ideas, located in Cárdenas (reviewed by Michelle Tisdell in Museum Anthropology two years ago). Today’s Granma paper mentions the personal collection of noted Cuban anthropologist Manuel Rivero de la Calle (author of books and articles on Cuba’s indigenous populations and cultures) in an unlikely museum context, as ironically notes Emilio Ichikawa’s blog. Read on:


La Habana, viernes 22 de enero de 2010. Año 14 / Número 22

Aniversario del Museo de la Marcha del Pueblo Combatiente

El museo de la Marcha del Pueblo Combatiente, en La Habana, arriba a su noveno aniversario, con un grupo de actividades que se desarrollarán el lunes próximo.

Fundado el 25 de enero de 2002, el nombre del Museo perpetúa la primera Marcha del Pueblo Combatiente por la Quinta Avenida, en el municipio de Playa, realizada el 19 de abril de 1980, como respuesta a los hechos vandálicos ocurridos días antes en la sede de la embajada del Perú, donde resultó muerto Pedro Ortiz Cabrera, combatiente del Ministerio del Interior.

El museo exhibe una importante y bien seleccionada muestra de los mejores pintores cubanos de varios siglos, junto a las evidencias históricas de la localidad.

Destacan entre sus colecciones, los restos fósiles colectados por el antropólogo Manuel Rivero de La Calle, en la Cueva de Lamas, en Santa Fe. (AIN)

*The Montané Anthropological Museum at the University of Havana is devoted mostly to pre-Hispanic artifacts. In his comment (below) Joaquin Estrada also mentions other collections that I was not aware of.

P.S.  I read in OPUS HABANA that just last week the 14th Taller de Antropología Social y Cultural Afroamericana took place in the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo.

More on the Cuban Cacique Who Made the Headlines

art, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, traditions and folklore 1 Comment »

A few days ago, we mentioned the visit of an Indian cacique from Guantanamo to Camaguey, as reported by a local Cuban newspaper and reproduced by El Lugareño’s blog. The visit was part of an art exhibit entitled The Artist Magicians that brought together Cuban and Canadian artists (specifically, Vancouver native James K-M), as part of a project called “The Cuba Project.”  The Cuba Project has just posted several videos from the opening, including footage of a tobacco ritual (supposedly an ancestral practice) led by Panchito, the aforementioned cacique.


By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema No Comments »

On MLK day, two critiques of U.S. racial oppression, thirty years apart.  The first, the well known NOW! by Cuban documentary filmmaker Santiago Alvarez (1965) – a critique articulated through existing footage and the music of Lena Horne. The second, BLACK AND WHITE, is a piece of Soviet animation from 1933, with the negro spiritual “Motherless Child” (sung by Paul Robeson) as the soundtrack. The animation was inspired by drawings made by the poet Mayakovsky to document a trip he made to the United States (a trip that first took him to Cuba).

(Thanks to Louis Head for identifying the song in the Soviet piece)

In Honor of the Living Gods of Haiti

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema, Cuba Haiti, music, Religion No Comments »

Between 1945 and 1953, Maya Deren shot  many hours of footage of Voudou ceremonies. The result was a documentary film put together after her death. Although it lacks the experimentation that characterized her film work, Divine Horsemen. The Living Gods of Haiti has become an inescapable reference to all anthropologists investigating Caribbean and African religions. The entire film is on youtube in six part, but the quality is awful. A better quality copy can be watched HERE in its entirety and without cuts (for some reason it will not embed properly in this blog).

Here is a preview:

More recently, ethnomusicologist Lois Wilcken has spent her professional career documenting the music associated with Voudou, both in Haiti and New York, in ways that recall the work documented on this blog by scholars like Berta Jottar on the Cuban rumba. Wilcken has put together a marvelous website that constitutes a virtual journey through the religious music of Haiti and its diaspora. The website, with a wealth of audiovisual information and reference, is called Voudou Music of Haiti.

The 2010 Letter of the Year

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Religion No Comments »

Another year has rolled around, and babalawos from around the world have met to issue “The Letter of the Year” for the country or region in which they live. Normally, there is agreement among them. In Cuba, however, every year there are at least two: one issued by the oficialista group of  the Yoruba Association, and one issued by the dissenting group of the so-called Miguel Febles Padron Commission. Their signos, governing divinities, and predictions are often different.  Cultural anthropologist Kenneth Routon wrote the most informative analysis of these differences, examining the power struggles and political conflicts among the two main groups of Cuban priests concerning the letter. I very much recommend the read, linked here. He published it in Ariana Hernandez-Reguant’s Cuba and the Special Period (Palgrave 2009).

Here are the links for this year’s Letters with predictions for Cuba:

ASOCIACION YORUBA DE CUBA (Governing Yemayá, accompanying Changó)

ASOCIACION MIGUEL FEBLES PADRON (Governing Obatalá, accompanying Oyá).

In addition, HERE’s the letter issued by the Miami-based Sacerdotes de Ifá “in representation of most of the religious families of the United States”, for the United States.

(Thank you to Oba Ernesto Pichardo and to Lisa Maya Knauer for sending the links)

Anna Pertierra, an anthropologist that warms your heart

bibliography, By Paul Ryer, Consumption & material culture, daily life, new article No Comments »

Impressive as the varied, proliferating scholarship on contemporary Cuba is, it is rare that I’ve found a piece as much of a page-turner, as provocative, personally risky, and so true to the experience of doing ethnography as this article, “Anthropology that warms your heart: on being a bride in the field,” by Anna Cristina Pertierra.  (Anthropology Matters Journal 2007, vol. 9 (1)).  As well as getting us thinking and talking about local (Cuban) entanglements, it could make an interesting starting point for a class on methods and ethics.  Thanks to Anna Cristina for writing and sharing this piece, which I find hard to classify; in some ways, in the mode of Behar’s Vulnerable Observer, but in other ways, not at all… The article is to be reprinted in a forthcoming Caribbean Studies Press volume (with other Cuba-related pieces as well), Field Identities in the Caribbean, ed. by Erin Taylor.

Other writings by Anna Pertierra include: “Creating order through struggle  in revolutionary Cuba.”In Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective, (Daniel Miller, ed) Macmillan 2010. “Private pleasures: Watching videos in post-Soviet Cuba,” International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol 12, no. 2, pp. 113-130. This article traces circuits of distribution and consumption of videocassette recorders (VCRs) and videocassettes in Cuba, which until April 2008 were not available for retail sale, and were usually sourced through black market or informal means. Inventar: Recent Struggles and Inventions in Housing in Two Cuban Cities,” by Patricio del Real and Anna Cristina Pertierra, in Buildings & Landscapes, vol. 15 (Fall, 2008).  And “En Casa: Women and Households in Post-Soviet Cuba,” in the Journal of Latin American Studies (2008), 40:743-767. This paper argues that the household has become a renewed space of significance for Cuban women in the post-Soviet period. It draws from existing scholarship and ethnographic fieldwork conducted with women in the city of Santiago de Cuba to discuss the effect of post-Soviet crisis and reform upon women’s domestic practices, the management of domestic economies, and longstanding gender ideals that link women to the domestic sphere.

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