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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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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