Looking at Society Through the ‘Cuban Lens’ / 14ymedio, Pedro Acosta


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Acosta, Havana, 12 November 2016 — Iliana Hernandez and Yusmila Reyna circulated among sculptures and art installations at the Cuban Art Factory this week. The two women recorded some scenes for the program Lente Cubano (Cuban Lens), a program that approaches the reality of the island through culture, complaints, and the stories of success or hopelessness that populate the streets.

Camera in hand, Hernández and Reyna organized on this occasion an interview with the model Katy Gil. To reach Vedado in time, the two artists had to cross much of the city: from Cojimar and Bauta, respectively. They did it without hesitation, because the project arouses a passion in them along with a good dose of enthusiasm.

“Transportation is a serious difficulty, because we do not have our own,” Hernandez told this newspaper, saying that she sustains the program economically with her personal resources. Renting a car is a luxury they cannot afford during these first steps of their audiovisual creation.

The aim is ambitious: a weekly, half-hour show, with five sections in which they talk about fashion, report on complaints, promote private businesses and disseminate the work of artists. It is “totally free,” the creators clarify when asked about the distribution of the material.

The difficulties that need to be overcome include not only the illegalities the alternative media in Cuba are subjected to. In recent years several independent spaces have emerged and competition becomes fiercer every day. Users are very demanding and it’s not enough to reflect on the issues the government ignores, professionalism matters.

“I know it seems difficult,” explains Reyna, who has also had extensive experience as an activist. “We have edited five programs and aired four,” she says. Uploading each chapter to the great World Wide Web takes a lot of time and money. Sometimes it has taken up to nine hours to send one of their programs through the collapsed Cuban networks.

“The interest in getting ahead and making a quality product is our main motivation,” she says. Even the microphone used during filming is an innovation from other team members: Gabriel Gonzalez in film-editing and presenters Jose R. Galan and Andy Marrero.

However, the major obstacles that must be overcome are not exactly material ones. During their work they often come up against the fear that runs through Cuban society. Getting statements in the street is complicated by respondents’ fear, but they always end up finding someone who decides to speak.

Some figures of Cuban culture have refused to appear in Cuban Lens because it is an alternative program. Others have been given long proposals, but never responded. On one occasion, after doing an interview and editing it, the guest asked them not to publish his speech because the show has a “political bent” and he isn’t looking for problems.

In part, to exorcise those demons, in the project’s early episodes they have made it clear that they are “looking at society in all its aspects” and at people “with their successes and their problems.” Cuban Lens “is not political, but with a varied approach and uncensored,” so that it “never misrepresents reality, nor the opinions of its guests.”

Those facing the lens of the two restless creators have ranged from the president of the Yoruba Society of Cuba, José Manuel Pérez, to musicians in the style of Yomil, El Danny, El Noro, Dayana and Adriano Disjay. Activists Eliecer Avila, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Wilfredo Vallin and Martha Adela Tamayo have also been invited to share their views.

Hernandez says that they are in negotiations with an American producer for the program to be broadcast in that country. To the extent that they earn the resources, they will cover other areas of the island outside the capital. In the future, this Cuban who lived for many years in Spain and decided to repatriate, dreams of owning an advertising agency.

While waiting for the much-needed resources, those who are a part of the project do not receive a salary. “You have to juggle until finances appear”, says its director. Instead, warnings from the State Security have not been lacking, and an official has been charged with letting the activist know that she must “be careful” with what she does with her program, especially with the section dedicated to citizen complaints.