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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Why prostitution is a powerful metaphor in Cuban film

Why prostitution is a powerful metaphor in Cuban film
Are films in Cuba censored? Why is prostitution a political symbol in
Cuban films? DW spoke with the curator of Germany's Film Festival
Cottbus, which highlights Cuba this year, to find out more.

Founded in 1991 just after the fall of the Soviet Union, the
FilmFestival Cottbus is regarded as the most important festival of
Eastern European cinema worldwide. Held in Cottbus, southeast of Berlin,
this year's festival looks beyond Eastern Europe to a country that was
once a communist cousin: Cuba. The festival runs from November 8-13.
DW spoke with FilmFestival Cottbus' curator Wolfgang Martin Hamdorf to
find out how recent political changes in the island country have
impacted Cuba's tiny but fascinating film scene.
DW: Do the Cuban films that you're showing in Cottbus reflect recent
political and social developments in the country?

Wolfgang Martin Hamdorf: Only partially. Cuban film has always dealt
with social upheavals and grievances in some way. That's a tendency that
Cuban film has shown since 1959. Recently, though, it's shown a sense of
helplessness. Current changes are not concretely reflected.
But the fundamental change that the island has been experiencing since
the fall of the Soviet Union has always been a topic for Cuban
filmmakers and for foreign filmmakers that come to Cuba to make movies.
The year 1995 is important because that's when a new economic policy was
implemented, which marked the country's worst economic period.
Looking at the program, I noticed that some films envision social change
by using houses and buildings. Are they symbols of change in Cuba?
Yes. It's the first thing foreign filmmakers notice when they come to
Cuba. Of course the old cars first, but then state of the buildings,
which is very critical. The buildings reflect a certain immobility. An
Argentine colleague told me last year at a film festival in Havana that
in the past 10 years nothing had changed except that the old houses that
were always in danger of crumbling had finally caved in.

The famous Brazilian director Glauber Rocha once said that Latin America
is a continent that is not so much in transition, but rather in
trance-like motion that always leads back to the starting point. I think
that's what makes the architecture so interesting for filmmakers.
Something else I noticed in the 2016 program is that "social outsiders"
- like homosexuals, transsexuals, prostitutes and people with
disabilities - appear in the films. Is there a reason for that?
That has been an issue since 1994 when the film "Strawberry and
Chocolate" [Eds.: by filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea] was released in
cinemas here. That was the first time that homosexuality was shown on
screen. Since then, the issue has made its way through Cuban cinema.
Homosexuality used to be officially repressed, but a lot has changed in
the past few years. For example, Fidel Castro's niece has spoken out in
support of transsexuals and against homophobia. That's also the focus of
a documentary film called "Transit Havana." But these issues are also
strongly represented in other films that aren't being shown in Cottbus.
Prostitution is also a very strong topic because it's a metaphor for the
downfall of the system. Prostitution can of course not be reconciled
with socialist ideas in any way. But it stands for the way the island is
being sold out to foreign tourists and investors. It's an important topic.

I found the issue of disabilities very interesting because it's not
particularly common in Cuban film. We have two films on the program that
touch on the topic - one feature film and one documentary. They ask how
challenging it must be in such a difficult everyday life in Cuba to take
care of a handicapped person in your own home.
What about censorship in Cuban film? How free are Cuban screenplay
writers, directors and producers?
The censorship that used to be in place when the state produced films
has essentially disappeared - because the state hardly produces anymore.
The state film institute (ICAIC) has cut down a lot. Now censorship
takes place regarding where films are played - whether they ever make it
into cinemas or on television and whether they are shown at festivals in
Havana.
Usually it works like this: Filmmakers develop their own material. The
independent production companies, which have arisen during the economic
crisis in recent years, can develop and make their films. There is no
state censorship that prevents these films from being made. The question
is just where they will be shown?
What is the situation like now that the state has pulled back? There are
not a lot of private production companies. How many films are currently
being made in Cuba annually?
Five to 10 films are made per year. There is a big short film production
scene associated with the film school called San Antonio de los Baños.
But there are very few longer feature films. And they can only be made
with foreign co-production partners. There are some very dedicated
production companies that make two to three films per year. There have
also been completely new genres that have come about since 2007-2008 -
vampire films and horror films, for example. But all of that is the
result of merciless self-exploitation and a very small budget.

In Cottbus you are also showing films that were made in East Germany in
the 1960s. The communist country maintained close ties to Cuba…
There are two films. "Preludio 11" by Kurt Maetzig from 1963 was made
directly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. It's a spy thriller
featuring a very young Armin Müller-Stahl. It's about a commando of
Cubans in exile, and Americans that are preparing an invasion of Cuba.
It's about treason and love of revolution. In the end, things work out
and the revolution is rescued.
We're also showing a short film from the film school in Babelsberg:
"Carlos" by Humberto López y Guerra (1966). It's a film about a soldier,
or rather a volunteer, that fought against the invasion and was brought,
badly wounded, to a hospital in East Germany. There, the nurse Bärbel
took an interest in the young Cuban Carlos. But they could hardly talk
to each other because they didn't speak the same language. It's a film
about cultural understanding.
This little East Germany section is rather the exception in the Cuba
program, which otherwise looks at Cuban film.

Source: Why prostitution is a powerful metaphor in Cuban film | Film |
DW.COM | 08.11.2016 -
http://www.dw.com/en/why-prostitution-is-a-powerful-metaphor-in-cuban-film/a-36304090
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