Life Between Hurricanes is the title of a new documentary which I begin shooting this month in Cuba with Jean Stubbs and Jon Curry-Machado of the Commodities of Empire research project at the Institute of Latin American Studies. Funded by an AHRC Research Networks grant, the film explores the impact of a history of extreme weather events on the economy and the environment in and around a coastal community that was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
What I’d like to see is Article 50 being revoked, but I don’t expect that to happen yet, if at all. So we need something to happen this week to persuade the EU to grant a long extension. (That of course should include elections to the European Parliament in May, which is only correct.) Reports suggest that even at this late stage the EU would ideally like to avoid a no-deal Brexit, so the question is what would persuade them to grant a further extension, to which the general answer is surely any significant change of position or circumstances.
One thing could be a majority on Monday in the Commons for one alternative or another, preferably together with a second referendum, because of course there should be a people’s vote, anything else would be less than democratic.
Happy Birthday Santiago Alvarez
Born 18 March 1919, Havana
Died 20 May 1998, Havana
Santiago Alvarez was not speaking metaphorically when he said that the Revolution made him a filmmaker. Before the creation of Cuba’s revolutionary film institute in 1959 filmmaking in Cuba was sparse, and at the age of 40 Alvarez had never made a film, yet he quickly became the boldest of innovators in a decade notable for Cuba’s remarkable contribution to the aesthetic renewal of the medium. Put in charge of the weekly Noticiero (Newsreel), Alvarez reinvented the genre. Instead of an arbitrary sequence of disconnected items, in which the way the world is perceived is hindered by the fragmentation of the way it’s presented, he joined things up into a political argument, or turned them into single topic documentaries. He went on to transform every documentary genre he laid hands upon, from the compilation film to the travelogue, in an irrepressible frenzy of filmic bricolage licensed by that supreme act of bricolage, the Cuban Revolution. He excelled in the montage of found footage. Employing every kind of visual imagery, from newsreel to stills, movie clips to magazine cuttings, combined with animated texts and emblematic musicalisation, Alvarez amalgamated revolutionary politics and artistic kleptomania to reinvent Soviet montage in a Caribbean setting.
News arrives of the death at age 84 of the American composer Eric Salzman, who appeared in my film ‘The Politics of Music’ (1972). My mind goes back not only to the filming but to the following summer when I paid my first visit to the USA and spent a few days with him at his home on Long Island – not one of those Gatsby mansions but a modest wooden house by the seashore which I think he said had originally belonged to his father. The enchantment of those few days began even before I got to the house, when I got off the train from New York at one of those American stations that isn’t a station but just a rural stop without a platform. Continue reading
A friend in Mexico asks me about the election. Can the left win? This is what I write back.
Gramsci’s famous dictum is very relevant: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Objectively it doesn’t look like Labour can actually win, but it does look increasingly likely that the Tories won’t come out of it nearly as well as it looked at the start, maybe enough that Mayhem will not be strengthened but weakened. Continue reading
The mainstream media seem to have already decided. The Tories can’t fail to win. Labour is going to be routed. Yet Mrs May’s opportunist election call is a signal of her weakness in the face of Brexit, belated recognition that she has no personal mandate for the task. So it’s the right thing to do but for all the wrong reasons. (See this lucid analysis by Anthony Barnett.) She wants a single-issue election about Brexit, in order, she says, to strengthen her hand vis-a-vis Europe – the question is, to do what? Does she even know? Her poker face gives nothing away but the hand she’s hiding is a real bummer. Is she panicking because, as Paul Mason puts it, ‘she has triggered article 50 with no plan, no agreed negotiating position and a deteriorating economy’? Continue reading
On Friday, here on the riverside at Putney, they started setting up the outside broadcast cameras for the Boat Race, the annual jamboree when Putney gets to be briefly seen on screens around the world. A strange object appeared looming up over my house.
A more interesting question to ask after his death is not what Fidel Castro was – a revolutionary hero? a tyrannical dictator? a beneficent dictator? – but who would now call themselves a Fidelista and what will become of Fidelismo? The Havana where I arrived the day before his burial at the other end of the island was certainly subdued, but how to interpret the silence that the TV news bulletins during the previous week had all remarked on? It wasn’t just that the authorities had banned music and alcohol during the mourning period. An old friend of my own age ruminated: ‘People were silent’, she said, ‘because they didn’t know what to say.’ Or as a new friend, an equally thoughtful young woman of 26 put it, ‘He already wasn’t there.’ Continue reading
No-one ever frightened the powers-that-be in Washington more than Fidel Castro. No-one ever challenged their hegemony more effectively, not just with his powerful rhetoric but above all in action, driving out a dictator and installing socialism ninety miles south of Florida. And no-one has ever been more vilified for doing so.
A revolution, he said, is not a bed of roses, and yes he made mistakes. Yes, the revolution he led dealt harshly with its enemies, but it was never Stalinist. It brought social justice, the best education and health systems in Latin America, the best example of international solidarity – above all for a country so small – and many other achievements, even though, yes, he sometimes misjudged economic reality.
His charisma was extraordinary and so was his intellect, and no-one was a more enthralling orator. I heard him speak twice. Once was a four-hour speech at a rally in the Plaza de la Revolución (I was grateful that as foreign guests we were given seats). The first half was about domestic affairs, and a lot of it passed me by, but I was riveted by the second half, the most penetrating analysis of international relations I had ever heard (or read). The second time was when he spoke – for only 45 minutes – one year at the closing ceremony of the Havana Film Festival, when Holly Aylett and myself were making a film about the festival, ‘Havana Report’, for Channel Four.
At the end of the festival, when we were getting clips from a number of films to include in ours, we had to grab what we wanted from the prize winners double quick, because he had asked to see them. He was also accused by his enemies of being a cultural tyrant, but when I was researching at the ICAIC for my book on Cuban cinema, I found no evidence of it. Has history absolved him? It already has, of course. But it isn’t over.
Some questions I’ve been asked about ‘Money Puzzles’, ahead of the first UK screenings in Crewe, London and Liverpool over the next few days.
What are the origins of ‘Money Puzzles’ and how do they fit in with your background as a documentarist?
‘Money Puzzles’ is a sequel to ‘Secret City’ (2012), which is about the City of London—the square mile that has been described as ‘a state within a state’. ‘Secret City’ was made in the wake of the Occupy movement, which concentrated attention on the City as the Vatican of financial capitalism. ‘Money Puzzles’ reverses the perspective and looks outward, beyond the citadel of finance, towards the global system of financial capital of which the City is one of the principal agents.