Reflections on Cuban Cinema

Reflections on Cuban cinema, in answer to questions from the Havana Glasgow Film Festival, ahead of this year’s festival which opens on November 10th with ‘Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes’.

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On packing up my library

Walter Benjamin wrote his delightful talk ‘Unpacking my library’ when he recovered his books after two years in storage. I turn to re-read it as I prepare to pack up my own far less impressive library in readiness to move house. The reason for the move is that I’ve given up my job as a part-time professor, and the reason for that arises from the calamity of coronavirus, not directly on myself but on the university.  Continue reading

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“Some compare what’s coming with a category 5 hurricane.”

Jean Stubbs writes about virtual screenings of ‘Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes’ during the pandemic. Read it here:

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Going Viral: A Coronavirus Diary

Coronavirus brings globalisation into focus by forcing attention onto the different layers of interconnectedness in our twenty-first century world. As the virus spreads around the planet in waves, the pandemic impinges on different social and economic sectors each according to its own rhythm, throwing them out of joint one by one. The synchronisation which normally keeps the whole system running harmoniously breaks down. It is precisely at the moment the system breaks down that we realise how interconnected it is. What is normally hidden because, as we used to say, it functions like clockwork, is exposed. We discover that while our clocks are nowadays calibrated atomically, public time is not at all uniform but constituted by the superposition of many different tempos.

Free Associations 78, 2020

Read it here:

Chanan 334-1265-1-PB


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Cuba in times of coronavirus

In the face of coronavirus, Cuba is proving to be thoroughly humane, in stark and vivid contrast to the stance taken by the impeached president in the White House. Coronavirus was late reaching Cuba, where it arrived with Italian tourists, but, soon after it did so, Cuba nevertheless gave safe haven to a British cruise ship which other countries (including the US) had refused permission to dock because it was carrying several confirmed cases and numerous other passengers showing symptoms. (Those who could travel were quickly flown home, the others being treated in Cuba.) 

A few days later, a group of 37 Cuban doctors and 15 nurses arrived in Italy to lend support to the crisis of care, a moment caught in a strangely moving piece of video of the medics descending the aircraft steps and one by one elbow-touching the official who greets them. It almost looks like a scene from a sci-fi movie where social customs are subtly different; you start by smiling but then, as they also greet the camera with an elbow, a wave or just a look, it brings you back down to earth. (A single shot lasting a full two-and-a-half minutes, the effect is cumulative.)

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Remember six degrees of separation – the theory that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else by a maximum of six steps? Also known as the six handshakes rule. Welcome to the world of coronavirus. This morning a healthy young friend who was due to come round this week emailed to say he won’t. He is self-quarantining because a friend of his who stayed overnight had begun to show symptoms.

On Friday I attended a workshop at the University of Leicester, where numbers were slightly depleted by two or three non-arrivals due to understandable reluctance to travel from abroad; two of them gave their contributions via internet – is this how things will now shape up?

We are living in an accelerated world of multiple forms of connectedness, which feed off each other and borrow each other’s imaginaries. Computers become infected with viruses too. 

Phone conversations with fellow members of the elderly-at-risk category. We agree that travel on the tube is to be avoided.

The media are busy generating a whole series of imaginary scenarios, stretching from the scientific to the fictitious. There are plenty of models to draw from. It seems that in France, sales of Camus’ The Plague have risen sharply. Perhaps we should all be reading Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. But as Covid-19 gets closer, the feeling I have is of an impending disaster movie which is still in script stage, and with various options under consideration. Meanwhile the globalised world economy is already in serious trouble, and our idiot politicians don’t know which way to turn.

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Cultural environmentalism in Leicester

A small but fascinating interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Leicester on March 6th, on the theme of environmental justice in Latin America, convened by Paula Serafini, proved a congenial occasion for a screening of ‘Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes’. The event, which focussed on cultural production in response to environmental injustice, was  slightly depleted by two or three non-arrivals due to understandable reluctance to travel from abroad; two of them gave their contributions via internet – is this how things will shape up in the foreseeable future?

What made it so engaging was the variety of presentations about a diverse range of cultural manifestations – street theatre, performance, music, textiles, video – and of phenomena susceptible to cultural intervention – conservation in the Colombian paramo, potato cultivation in the Peruvian Andes, conflict over pulp mills on the Uruguay river, shareholder meetings in London. Continue reading

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Ernesto Cardenal

In tribute to Ernesto Cardenal, the Nicaraguan poet who has just died at the age of 95, here he is in the early 80s, when he was the Sandinista Minister of Culture, in an extract from ‘New Cinema of Latin America’, which I made for Channel 4.
This was the only time I ever told an interviewee what I wanted them to say. I had been warned that he would have very little time, but I’d read an interview with him about culture and imperialism, so I simply asked him to repeat what he’d said there. I had the impression that he wasn’t really comfortable in front of the camera but he was very gracious, and when the camera rolled, he repeated what he’d said almost word for word, like prose poetry.
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The Plan that came from the bottom up

Here’s a timely new film, The Plan – or in full, ‘The Plan that came from the bottom up’ – about how to envision an alternative to the present disastrous disposition of a world headed for self-destruction by one means or another. There’s nothing airy-fairy about what it proposes. The plan in question dates back to the 1970s and was drawn up by the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee. What they proposed (with the encouragement of Tony Benn, Harold Wilson’s industry minister) was the conversion of production for war (about half of Lucas Aerospace’s output consisted in military contracts) to the manufacture of socially useful products ranging from wind turbines to kidney dialysis machines.

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Cuba and COP26: Forbidden Thoughts

What happens when the independent filmmaker finishes a film and begins the business of getting it out, hustling for screenings and posting on social media to reach the audience you’ve made it for? You start to have to think about the conditions for its reception, or what marketing people reductively call targeting – only you don’t have a marketing budget. The problem is the law of the internet: the network you want to reach is always further away than the network you’re able to reach from the network where you start off. This is where we’re at with our new documentary, Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes, about ecology and the prospects for sustainable development in this Communist Caribbean island. Continue reading

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