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New documentary film on the 1961 Literacy Campaign

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema 3 Comments »

The producers are looking for SoCal venues to screen it in April:

The film features Norma Guillard talking about her coming of age in the Literacy Campaign as a young woman of 15 who left home to work in the countryside as a literacy teacher, una maestra. Norma is a Cuban social and clinical psychologist, a university professor, a scholar and activist. She works primarily on the issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, and issues of diversity and identity in a Cuban and Caribbean context, and is one of the first Cuban women of her generation to call herself a feminist. Guillard will be in the US in March and April to publicize this documentary on the 1961 Cuban literacy campaign that organized over 100,000 youth to teach illiterate citizens to read and write. Catherine Murphy produced and filmed the documentary.

For more info. you might download the production notes, or go to www.maestrathefilm.org, to theliteracyproject.org and/or email kathleen.rubin at gmail.com

Gloria Rolando on the 1912 Massacre

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema, History, Race 3 Comments »

Gloria Rolando just visited UNC where she spoke about her work and screened selections of her three-part documentary on the 1912 massacre of the Party of the Independents of Color. The film seeks to uncover memories of this event through interviews with historians and communities throughout Cuba. You can read more about it HERE.

Thanks to Lisa Knauer for this information.

The Black Roots of Salsa. A documentary film.

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema, music 17 Comments »

The Black Roots of Salsa is a new documentary on Cuba’s rumba life, currently in post-production. As you can see below, the preview is stunning, so I caught up with its director and Zürich native, Christian Liebich, and he kindly agreed to explain what his film is about and what his plans are….

AHR: I understand that this film has not yet been released. What is it about, exactly?

CL: The movie is about the Black Roots of Salsa and the Evolucion of Rumba. It covers not only the musical aspects of this heritage but also dancing and the lived experience. It shows a complex culture through the lens of certain families who live their tradition and inherit them through the generations. The film starts with the state of contemporary Rumba, as shown by young practitioners in Havana. It also covers some of the genre’s history in its three variants: Yambu, Guaguancó and Columbia. As a non-religious manifestation, Rumba was accessible to a broad audience. Nonetheless its roots are set inside Afro-Cuban religions imported from Africa, namely the Abakua, Congo and Yoruba, all of which are covered in the documentary.

The film also addresses the history of Son, which received the ‘Clave’ from the Rumba, as well as the influence of both son and rumba in timba. Most of the material is shot in Habana, but there are some takes from Yoruba Andabo’ shows in Paris, Geneva and Madrid. Rumba culture is not just lived in the streets, it’s presented in theatres in Cuba and abroad.

AHR: Is this a full-length documentary? is it finished? Do you have a distributor? what are your plans for it?

CL: The editing is finished and the film is over two hours long (2″7′). We still do not have any distributor. We have submitted it to the New York International Latino Film Festival, which will take place in August 2010, but at this time we still do not know if it will be selected. Our hope is to premier it in NYC, and then screen it at Film and Salsa festivals everywhere possible, and then release it on DVD.  Currently subtitles are available in English, Spanish and German, working on French, Italian and Japanese.

AHR: How did you become interested in rumba and what prompted you to do this documentary?

CL: I am a passionate Timba dancer and am fascinated by the complexity of Afro-Cuban culture. I was lucky to find very interesting characters like, mainly, Adonis Panter Calderon, who is producing the documentary with me.  We started working together in this film in 2004. I am married to Ismaray Chacon ‘Aspirina’ who is the granddaughter of Luis Chacon ‘Aspirina’ and is deeply connected with her culture.

AHR: Is this your first film?

CL: I started with a handy cam in 2004 in Cuba. In 2007 together with my good friend Virna Hernandez, we did a film about a kids’ project entitled “La Rumba No Va a Morir” about a music and dance group led by Adonis Panter Calderón’s cousin Natividad Calderon Fiallo. That DVD is now in process. I have a Youtube channel with over sixty short clips.

The film is still looking for funders. For more information, you may download the production’s portfolio HERE or contact Christian Liebich.


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.


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.

Two Latin music documentaries: Latin Music USA (2009), and the Latin Side of Soul (1972) now online

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Cinema, music 2 Comments »


Latin Music USA aired on PBS last october on four episodes:

I. Bridges

II. The Salsa Revolution

III. The Chicano Wave

IV. Divas and Superstars

You can watch them HERE

Soul! “Shades of Soul, The Latin Side of Soul, Part I” aired on November 15, 1972


It has been just posted online and you can watch it HERE
(thanks to the Latin Jazz list-serve for the tip).

Beautiful Me(s) documentary

Cinema, Notes & Queries, Race No Comments »

A website inspired by the documentary film, Beautiful Me(s): Finding our Revolutionary Selves in Black Cuba, has launched at www.beautifulmes.com.  The film is the intimate travel diary of underdog students who travel from the Ivy League to the rebel state of Cuba.  In addition to information about the film, the site offers a variety of educational resources about AfroCuban politics and culture.  There are links to our Amazon store, the Progressive Pupil Collection, where you can find books, DVDs and music that relate to Beautiful Me(s) as well as a link to our Facebook fan page.

(Thanks to Kaifa Roland for this link)

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