The censorship of a documentary on the relationship between an Argentinian musician-star and Cuba has for several months angered filmmakers on the island who are demanding to be able to exercise their art freely.
“Cuban cinema will be free or it won’t be!” Cuban actor Luis Alberto Garcia said to applause on Tuesday as he received an award at the Gibara International Film Festival in eastern Cuba.
The actor dedicated his award to the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers, some 400 professionals strong, which recently protested against the censorship of a documentary entitled “La Havana de Fito” recounting the bond forged since the 1980s by the Argentinian rocker Fito Paez, a celebrity in Latin America, with the Cuban capital.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of problems and historical censorship within the culture of the Cuban revolution,” director Juan Pin Vilar, 60, told AFP.
It all started in April when the Ministry of Culture banned the broadcast of three documentaries, including that of Juan Pin Vilar, in a small independent cultural space in Havana.
Faced with the filmmaker’s protests, the documentary was finally broadcast on Cuban television, but incomplete and without the authorization of either the author, the producer or the singer.
According to the director, the reaction of the authorities concerns a passage in the film where Fito Paez questions the official version of the death of the revolutionary guerrilla Camilo Cienfuegos, who disappeared in 1959, and the death sentence in 2003 of three young people who had hijacked a boat to emigrate in the USA.
The broadcast of the film on television prompted some 600 artists to sign a declaration denouncing this type of “procedure (…) which has become systematic” in Cuban cinema. Among the signatories, the singer Silvio Rodriguez, the director Fernando Pérez or even Jorge Perugorría, main actor of the emblematic “Strawberry and chocolate” (1993).
– “Moralistic vision”
“Showing (the film) on television encourages piracy” and “ruins the life it could have in international festivals”, explains to AFP Miguel Coyula, a 46-year-old filmmaker who says he shoots his films clandestinely to avoid piracy. police harassment.
He screened his film Corazon Azul (2021) at home for two years, presented in a few festivals abroad but ignored by Cuban cinemas. “It’s like we’ve filled the Chaplin twice,” he says, referring to Havana’s main cinema.
It is in this cinema that an unprecedented meeting took place at the end of June between the members of the Assembly of Filmmakers and government officials, including the representative of the ideological department of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).
The debates became tense when Miguel Coyula began to film certain interventions, despite the warnings of the president of the Cuban Institute of Art and the Cinematographic Industry (ICAIC), Ramon Samada.
“We are independent filmmakers, we are ready to be arrested because our job is to film!” Miguel Coyula can be heard shouting in a video posted on Youtube.
A few days later, the director of the ICAIC was replaced and the authorities announced the creation of a working group to respond to the concerns of professionals.
The Filmmakers’ Assembly, which learned of the creation of this group from television, reacted by declaring that it had not received answers to “specific and systematic questions of censorship and exclusion” and asked for a new meeting.
In an interview with the independent Cuban media El Toque, Fito Paez joined in the controversy: “I am a friend of the Cuban people (…) They do not represent the Cuban people”, he declared in reference to departmental officials.
For Maria Isabel Alonso, a specialist in Cuban literature and culture at St Joseph’s University in New York, the controversy is “the symptom of a more important, systemic problem: the right to freedom of artistic expression of creators, in conflict with a moralistic and ideological vision promoted by the authorities”.
In November 2020, some 300 artists organized an unprecedented demonstration to demand more freedom of expression. The dialogue with the ministry had broken down.