What we didn’t film in Cuba

Cuba in mid-October was nearly as hot as in July, when we finished shooting ‘Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes‘. We went back to show the almost finished film to our collaborators in Havana and in the small fishing port of Caibarién, where much of our filming was focussed. Our efforts were rewarded by lively discussion and we returned home to make some adjustments in response to the feedback. The film is now finished, and will have its first public screening in Havana in December during the Havana Film Festival.

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Coming soon – Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes (Cuba: Vivir entre ciclones)

The Cuba we left behind when we finished shooting Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes in July came under renewed pressure from the North in September. Fresh sanctions by Washington on oil shipments from Venezuela plunged Cuba into a fuel crisis. There wasn’t enough petrol in the pumps. Friends in Havana told us that people were instructed to stay home if they live too far to walk in to work. There has been huge pressure on public transport. Priority was given to hospitals and food distribution. Now, as we finish editing, we are due for a short return trip to Cuba to screen a preview for our collaborators and obtain their feedback. It looks like getting around Havana will be even more difficult than usual, and whether we’ll be able to make it to the province, some five hours drive, is open to doubt, although other reports say things should improve during October.

Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes is a film is about the elements – hurricanes and rain, the sea and the earth. About a fishing port on the north coast of Cuba which has seen better days: Caibarién, where Hurricane Irma – one of the most powerful ever to sweep the Caribbean – made landfall on 17th September 2017.

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A film about ecology in Cuba

Living 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.

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29th March +2

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. 

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Happy Birthday Santiago Alvarez

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.

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Remembering Eric Salzman

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

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Election surprises and imponderables

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

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Election Call: Politics out of sync


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

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Unexploded bombs

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.









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Cuba: After the Burial

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

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