EICTV, the International School of Film and Television in Cuba, is making freely available and sub-titled in English some of the work produced at the school. I recommend this beautiful documentary by Juliana Gómez Castañeda. Teresa lives in a small village in an unnamed island off Santiago in Cuba. Her daughter´s away and she´s taking care of her grandaughter, Maria, who she doesn´t see as often as she´d like because she goes to boarding school away from the island. Teresa´s got a dog — Diana — she goes fishing with, on a raft, which she paddles with her sandals. She often comes home with nothing; she mourns her mother, her daughter´s away and she´s anxious about her grand-daughter, she drinks rum, dances and sings her pain with her friends; she goes to Church. A film that gives you a glimpse of a life, leads you to love the central character, and helps you understand structures of feeling that are not your own, with some indelible images, beautifully filmed to capture all the vagaries of light. I loved it and recommend.
Gary Indiana goes to Havana in 2012 to write his memoirs. In between sex with hustlers, he tries to remember what it was like to be part of the LA political underground that gathered around various communes, the punk movement around the Mudd Club, the intellectual circles of the Reagan years, etc. It´s beautifully written and very entertaining but leaves a sour note. He admits to a lack of empathy and the book does indeed demonstrate the extent of it. He´s gallant about the personal cost of growing up in a homophobic culture — the bullying, the abuse, the breakdowns, the rapes — the need to invent oneself, to imagine a way of existing whilst every experience chips away at expectations of romantic love, to find community and survive the pandemic raging around. He´s clear-eyed, unsentimental and dispassionate about this. But it is disconcerting that every Cuban is depicted as a hustler on the make, out to get something from him, each is dehumanised in some way, even as he gallivants around Havana flashing his dollars and expecting the whole culture to bend its knee. It´s a quite extraordinary example of sexual tourism , American entitlement, and white privilege. And yet….it´s also a portrait of how a homophobic culture turns a sensitive young boy into an embittered old queen, and ends up being both illuminating and moving.
Julio Cesar left Cuba as part of the Mariel exodus in 1980, contracted HIV and disappeared from view. This beautiful film, made up of postcards and pictures, is Alejandro Alonso s attempt at a re-encounter with his uncle, a putting him back in the picture. The film´s style evokes a hazy memory of things unsaid, half-remembered, all enveloped by very strong bonds and much love, pieced together through postcards he sent home, family pictures, and textured sounds. It´s very moving and brings together many histories: political exile but also those kinds of exclusions, structural, that seem to appear once the suspicion of homosexuality makes itself felt. Part of a cycle curated by Dean Luis Reyes for Rialta magazine and featuring beautiful sound work from José Homer Mora.
An interview with Samuel Larson Guerra, distinguished sound designer (a term he hates), author of one of the few books in Spanish on sound in the cinema, ´Pensar el sonido (Thinking Sound)´, award winning sound designer (Ariel award for Fibra Optica in 1998), editor (Diosa de Plata award for best editing for Dos Abrazos, 2007), composer (Ariel for best original music for Vera, 2008), and an award-winning teacher (CILECT teaching prize from the Asosiación Internacional de Escuelas de Cine y Televisión). Larson is a member of the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematogáficas (AMACC, the Mexican equivalent of the American Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences that hands out the Oscars) since 2008. He also composed the music that leads in and out of the podcast.
In terms of sound quality this is one of the worst interviews I´ve ever recorded: Ironic and embarrassing when its subject has devoted much of his life to thinking about sound. However, the conversation is so interesting that I decided to go ahead and put it out, particularly when Jose Homer Mora Costa kindly offered to clean up the sound. He was successful in eliminating the worst offences though it´s still not ideal. The conversation with Samuel Larson ranges from the beginnings of EICTV, film culture in Mexico; the influence of Michel Fano and Walter Murch, both of whom his studied with, on his work, his filmmaking in Mexico and Central America, the effects of changing technologies on sound capture, mixing and design, the changing importance of sound within Mexican film culture and institutions, and finally his own book.
Paul Bush from the National Film and Television School arrived at the Escuala Internacional de Cine y Televisión (EICTV) in Cuba on Monday to show some of his films and talk about his practice. He’s of the Damien Hirst generation that studied Fine Art at Goldsmith College he says, but was always more interested in conceptual art than painting and somehow drifted onto film (I was amused by the translator, who was excellent with all the difficult terms and technical language, not knowing who Damien Hirst is, as was evidenced by the many different gos she had at the name).
He puts a picture of a cow onscreen, not showing the film but indicating how that was from his first film, entitled The Cow’s Drama (1984), the result of following a cow in a field in Wales for two days, and how it took him over a decade to make the first film he was paid for, His Comedy (1994), a stop-motion rendering of Dante’s Inferno, using Gustave Doré engravings as a model through which to cut right into the celluloid. The cutting into the colour film was a surprise, as he found himself also scratching into layers of colours, thus creating a series of striking colour effects, at first unintended, then worked through and consciously deployed.
It’s a very beautiful work and led to his being able to make a living making short films, a considerable achievement. He says he was of course aided by the founding of Channel Four in those years which had as its remit a provision of minority programming, which aside from works for the disabled, people of colour, gay communities etc, also included a remit for experimental cinema, a term he says he dislikes due to its connotations of seriousness and dullness. He says he likes movies, shown in a theatre and that there’s room for frivolity and fun in seriousness.
Bush also showed his latest work, The Five Minute Museum (2015), beginning with stop-motion images of stone, then swords, porcelain, chairs, clocks, all giving the impression of being constantly in flux. The most striking of these was a montage of the drawings on Greek pottery, through which he created the striking sensation of the history of the world being all about love, sex, art and war all in communication with each other and all exploding together before ending in a museum behind glass.
His work is intriguingly conceptual; in Furniture Poetry (1999), he takes Wittgenstein’s question of ‘Is a chair a chair when we’re not looking at it? Does it become one only in response to our gaze?’ a starting point to show us tables changing before our eyes, then green apples turn red, apples turn into pears and so on, converting before our eyes, 24 x a second. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2001), Bush uses the same set-ups that Victor Fleming deployed in the 1941 MGM version with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, but condensed in stop-motion and accompanied by dream-like excerpts from the original soundtrack to create an effect similar to human schizophrenia by subtly changing every single frame but leaving the narrative superficially intact. It’s marvellous.
Bush offers the usual advice to students — ‘keep your collaborators with you as long as you can even though there will be fights’ – but what I remember most is his example of the concept of ‘tree’; how when we read the word ‘tree’ in a book we all share in the imaging of a tree but the tree which each of us actually imagines is different, and thus the role of the filmmaker is to create that ideogram, that image which each member of the audience can share but also take hold of, create something with it they can treasure, that is also uniquely theirs. Lovely thought from a stimulating talk by a charming man.