Cuban Film Institute: “There can be no place in our forums for the enemies of the Revolution” / Diario de Cuba

Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) headquarters. (CUBARTE)
Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) headquarters. (CUBARTE)

Diario de Cuba, Havana, 4 December 2015 — A statement from the president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), published on Thursday on the State website Cubarte put a stop to the recent discussions by filmmakers against censorship, in meetings where, “there can be place for the enemies of the Revolution.”

“The point of view of the debate we have defended has been, is and will be unequivocally Revolutionary,” says the ICAIC directive. “We are working, together with other organizations and institutions, to find a solution to the problems of audiovisual creation, from an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and socialist perspective.”

The communication has been issued within days of the expulsion of activists and independent Cuban journalists in a meeting where a letter of support for theater director Juan Carlos Cremata was drafted. continue reading

The assembly, which was convened under the name “First Forum of Filmmakers on cultural policy and Cuban audiovisual content,” also had on its agenda the reading and discussion of articles on censorship and self-censorship such as those by filmmakers Enrique Colina and Juan Antonio García Borrero.

“On Saturday November 28 we rejected the presence of several mercenaries at the ICAIC Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, where a gathering of filmmakers was held with their institution. None of the organizers had invited them and their presence was a provocation and a premeditated act to use this kind of space as a platform for proselytizing and legitimacy,” the statement said.

The situation became particularly heated when officials from the institution ejected the activist Eliecer Avila, present in the room as a listener to the debate.

“In the face of any attempt to distort the results of the joint work between the filmmakers and the ICAIC, we feel a moral duty to reaffirm our commitment to the Country, the Cuban culture and the Revolution, without which the existence of the ICAIC itself and an educational and cultural work of emancipation would not have been possible, work that is the pride of our people,” the statement continued.

The ICAIC insisted that “it will remain consistent with the cultural policy of the Revolution.”

Cuban Filmmakers Mobilize Against Censorship / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Juan Carlos Cremata during the G20 meeting last Saturday with a T-shirt that says "censored" and with his mouth covered with tape. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)
Juan Carlos Cremata during the G20 meeting last Saturday with a T-shirt that says “censored” and with his mouth covered with tape. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 November 2015 – The G20 group of filmmakers voted unanimously at a meeting on Saturday in favor of supporting the filmmaker and playwright Juan Carlos Cremata by writing a letter denouncing the censorship of his work and the smear campaign against him.

The meeting had its most tense moment when an official of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) tried to expel from the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center, activist Eliecer Avila of Somos+, who had come in response to an invitation to the public.

Near the end of the day, just before the vote, ICAIC director Roberto Smith and another official of the institute, Ramon Samada, tried to eject the leader of Somos+, saying that he was a “counterrevolutionary.” Several filmmakers argued that the meeting was “open to the public” to which Samada replied: “Yes, but not to counterrevolutionaries.” continue reading

The critic Enrique Colina, who participated as a panelist at the event by reading his text On Censorship and its Demons, settled the incident saying that no one has the power to expel any of those present, “much less now,” arguing that they were creating a problem different from that that was being discussed.

Smith had read some pages before the beginning of the comments where he admonished them to “continue defending ICAIC as a space for debate and more complex ideas, open to a plurality of opinions.” The ICAIC director recognized right there that despite the fact that all those present, “live in the same reality, we have different points of view, contradictory and antagonistic.”

The discussion was moderated by Ernesto Daranas, director of the award winning film Conduct, and the narrator, essayist and scriptwriter Arturo Arango. After them, the three invited panelists spoke. Colina read his text and Arango read the article Phenomenology of Self-censorship in Cuba by the second speaker, Juan Antonio García Borrero, who was not able to get there from Camagüey. The third panelist was the journalist Dean Luis Reyes, host of the television program Sequence.

One of the topics discussed was the crisis in the documentary genre in Cuba. Dean Luis Reyes discussed The Train on the Northern Line, which “aspires to reveal the crisis of the Cuban people,” and the shooting of which “was affected by police and State Security intervention.” Despite, he explained, their having worked with “the necessary permits, the filmmakers had to suffer harassment and even threats.”

The filmmaker Jorge Luis Sanchez recalled the ICAIC “that no longer exists” and spoke of the presence in the media of a “blind triumphalism” and “persistent myopia of blaming individuals for the inefficiencies of the system.” Sanchez launched a call to “not be scandalized any more by works of art, but by the crazy design of reality,” and commented on the difficult and complex “reality of a country where to survive you have to turn to illegalities because the institutions almost never work well.”

For his part, the critic and professor Gustavo Arcos got straight to the point: “If we have censored films and if ICAIC participates in that censorship, we have to begin to define it.” Arcos understood that it is nonsense to have discussions “without having them in front of the people who are responsible for this issue,” and stressed the importance of having a counterpart so that the dialog does not become stagnant.

Arcos asked the authorities to explain why they consider the film they censor is “against the Revolution.” After admitting that, “we all have been too patient, waiting,” he proposed moving to implement a “a Plan B of strong actions.”

The filmmaker Belkis Vega recounted her long journey to run into the person who had censored her on military aid to Angola. She denounced the silence of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) and how film meetings were manipulated in the last congress to create a “candidacy commission” that censored names approved by the meetings and imposed others that no one had proposed.

Vega confessed to being frightened by the smear campaign against Cremata and what looks like a “witch hunt.” She also called attention to those who attack him in forums and through articles under a pseudonym and who have information they could only have gotten “through State Security.”

The playwright Norge Espinosa took the floor to speak about his “closeness to the issue of Cremata” and to everything that this case that “has been unleashed on the rest of the Cuban theater.” Espinosa recalled the “little war of e-mails” in 2007, which led to a series of meetings, but nothing came out in the press about the meetings of intellectuals.

He also claimed that what happened to Cremata, the director of Nada (Nothing), who on Saturday was wearing a shirt with the word censored across the chest, has “rocked the Cuban scene in recent weeks.” Espinosa regretted that this has found “no support” in the “theater movement, which is represented by UNEAC and the Council of the Performing Arts,” but said that this case creates a “precedent” and expressed his joy that “Cuban filmmakers are gathering in a way that people of the theater didn’t know how to do.”

Colina took the floor again to insist that in the case of Cremata something had to be done, “something concrete, a statement of protest” as a group and “put it in the media” because “we are all Cremata.”

The agreed on support letter will be published in the blog of Juan Antonio García Borrero and on the Facebook page of Cuban filmmakers.

Site manager’s note: The ICAIC response to this meeting is reported here.

On Censorship And Its Demons / 14ymedio, Enrique Colina

The critic and filmmaker Enrique Colina. (Youtube)
The critic and filmmaker Enrique Colina. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Enrique Colina, 30 October 2015 – The artistic censorship practiced in Cuba during these 56 years, against works and creators, from a culture in favor of a supposed defense of the Revolution, has paradoxically resulted in a backlash against the political prestige of the Revolutionary Process, the same one that encouraged and developed from its beginnings the diverse artistic expressions that today sustain and reinforce our national identity and guarantee the continuity of the positive legacy of this stage of our history.

If we consider the rectifications and rescues of cultural works and personalities that were once stigmatized with the counterrevolutionary sanbenito by officials and leaders of a rigid and dogmatic orthodoxy – on occasion fractured by a corrupt and opportunistic, or simply inconvenient, act within a centralized and vertical structure of power, which led them to be separated and condemned to political ostracism – the list would be long. Today the injustices committed during the so-called Five Gray Years are officially recognized, and the reparations, repairs and appropriation of our cultural legacy is often realized when its authors have already disappeared, moreover of those who had to emigrate, but for those who left because of criticism, warnings and the denunciation in their works the authoritarian and intolerant drift of the systemic bureaucracy, for those “rescued” they have to be dead already.

There is already a stagnation in public awareness and an ideological exhaustion from the worn out propagandistic character of the media continue reading

Intolerance to criticism as a rule to know the truth – which is inherent in the artistic phenomenon that explores, investigates and scrutinizes human conflicts, socially, politically and economically framed in its reality and its history – has been and continues to be a projection of a fear to face the responsibilities emanating from a bureaucratic power that has made mistakes, and suffered losses and deviations from its original revolutionary and libertarian impulse.

Mistakes and absurdities motivated on occasion by a chimerical immobility incapable of adapting and overhauling the utopia to meet the urgent requirements of a reality in need of an objective, sensible and balanced assessment of the causes of its defects in order to correct and amend them. Rather, and despite, the cyclical openings of rectification and the calls to public criticism against what has been done badly in these 56 years, attention was always focused on the phenomena and not the causes.

Thus the absence of a systematic critical confrontation through the media, subjected to a castrating censorship, has ended up forging the sacredness and untouchability of the vertical decisions of power, although it tries to mask them with participative consultations to touch up the make-up.

There is already a stagnation in public awareness and an ideological exhaustion from the worn out propagandistic character of the media that support an opaque future reality and provoke this apathy and escapism that so concerns those who are worried about the ideological diversionism, superficiality and banality of the entertainment people seek in the “weekly packet,” the computer games, and reggaeton music…

This loss of values, bad education, vulgarity, social indiscipline… are also the result of not having promoted and nurtured in public practice that rebellion and autonomy of opinion that Che encouraged against all the liars and opportunists who preach the dictates of discretion, caution and restraint in the expression of our non-conformist citizens. Disagreement as a lawful civil right to express an opinion without being reprimanded through this inoculation of fear in the face of the consequences of expressing a critical point of view in “an inappropriate place, at an inopportune moment, and in a politically incorrect manner.”

Movies, plays and artworks … have suffered the brunt of this reactionary hangover that rejects the debate of ideas

Movies, plays and art works have contributed with many of their creations to confronting us with this wall of silence protected by the ideological gatekeepers who censor and condemn in the name of the defense of the Revolution when in reality what they do is undermine the humanist pillars of its continuity. Movies, plays and artworks – without forgetting the period of prohibition suffered by the best exponents of the Nueva Trova who ultimately became the most authentic singers of the Revolutionary work – suffered the brunt of this reactionary hangover that rejects the debate of ideas and crouches in the stone trenches to launch their poisonous inquisitional darts.

Recently — and in contradiction to the appeal made by the government’s highest authorities to face reality with a critical eye, honesty and ethical commitment, recognizing that unanimity of opinions is a fallacy of simulation — they have launched attacks against a writer whose literary work and journalism is an example of seriousness and sincerity recognizing our current material and spiritual scarcities, in addition to being a genuine exponent of a committed and authentic Cubanness.

I’m talking about Leonardo Padura and also referring to the stupid ban on the movie based on his novel, Return to Ithaca, which months later was shown during French Cinema week, more to keep up appearances than as recognition of the error of arrogance committed. Stupid because it shamelessly exposed the fangs of the crouching dogmatic beast just to create a problem that discredits not only its own maker but the power it represents.

Because it is understood that more than strength, such intolerant behavior expresses the weakness and the intellectual and political intolerance for open and responsible debate with reasons and arguments that nourish a shared confidence to seek solutions to the problems denounced in the work, so that this sad history is not repeated, a history of encouraging this “revolutionary” combativeness with a propensity to gag thinking and make a paranoid sickness of the logical precaution that assumes a change like that which is being produced in our country. Healthy change, not only of the intentions to keep everything the same, but to expunge this inability to see ourselves in an uncomfortable mirror, to recognize our imperfections and to question the historic deficiencies in the systemic structure of the model that encourages them.

Such intolerant behavior expresses the weakness and the intellectual and political intolerance for open and responsible debate

Thus, I finally get to the starting point that motivated me to write these lines: the prohibition of the play by Juan Carlos Cremata and the suspension of his employment as a theater director. This brought me to remember those years when the Cuban theater, that had reached its splendor with the Revolutionary triumph, suffered that purifying “parameterization” with its aberrant and repressive prejudices that resulted in frustration, ostracism and exile for creators and artists who were only enriching with their art the cultural patrimony that we know constitutes the support and sustenance of our national identity.

I am not telling the story nor mentioning names overwhelmed by that outrage which I consider truly shameful and counterrevolutionary, which only brought discredit to a Revolution that some extremists with the power of decision interpreted the aspiration to create a New Man with that of creating an obedient robot, dogmatic and filled with reactionary prejudices, today under attack but not exterminated. Nor will I stop to argue about the work in question which one can agree with or not, like its staging or not… no, I only want to point out that I consider it inappropriate for some – who are not artists nor have they contributed anything to the national culture – to again set themselves up as inquisition judges and who, yoked to an ephemeral authority, decide to frustrate the fate of an artist, of a creator whose work in the cinema and the theater is already the patrimony of our culture.

There may be contradictions and wherever a theater director can decide whether or not to present a work, whether to suspend or continue its representation, the anomalous case is that if there was prior supervision with respect to its content or staging, the responsibility the censors have in the situation created after the premiere.

The theater in Cuba is under by the Ministry of Culture and responds to a political culture whose tuning fork should be as broad as the recognition of the national audience’s capacity of discernment, an audience officially recognized for its educational, political and cultural level. So why, then, the censorship of the adaptation and staging of a play that itself contains great provocation, perfectly compatible with the shock factor of an art that tries to break taboos, move us and make us think, to take sides in favor or against their proposal?

Do we or do we not have an educated and committed audience with revolutionary ideas and principles capable of drawing their own conclusions to approve or reject it? What is the real constructive sense of an exclusive censorship without mediating a debate among those who undertake this artistic activity who are potentially subject to this same arbitrariness?

Some extremists with the power of decision interpreted the aspiration to create a New Man with that of creating an obedient robot, dogmatic and filled with reactionary prejudices

When, 25 years ago, censorship was dictated against Daniel Diaz Torres’s Alice in Wonderland, and direction was given to the militants of the Provincial Party, headquartered at M and 23rd, to go to the Yara Cinema during its showing to “cut off at the pass any manifestation of counterrevolutionary approval.” On the front page of the newspaper Granma an official note appeared where it was announced that the Council of State decided that the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) would be under the supervision the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT). This meant that the National Film Institute lost the relative autonomy of political decision-making for the approval of film production, which until then had allowed them to do documentary film production and today could be considered as a diagnosis of the evils of the Special Period which worsened to point of sounding the alarm on the urgent need to make the changes and openings that today are so long delayed.

At that time we filmmakers gathered to protest against that decision that discredited the film, its director and dissolved the ICAIC. The film was not counterrevolutionary, nor was its director nor any of those who went down on their knees to defend the artistic space with critical proposals, all lined up against the bureaucratic authoritarian and reductive abusive interventionism, exactly like that which caused the so-called desmerengamiento* (total collapse) of the Socialist Camp. (Because it was the same hammer and sickle that brought down the Berlin Wall, and it is worth saying that it was because of disbelief and the political dysfunctionality of the Socialist model, in whose womb, worn out and corroded, lay the revolutionary essence of its origin.)

What is the real constructive sense of an exclusive censorship without mediating a debate among those who undertake this artistic activity who are potentially subject to this same arbitrariness?

There were directors like Santiago Alvarez, Tomas Gutierrez Alea and others who, with their artistic careers, supported the continuity of this critical slope that always confronted the harassment and repudiation of those keepers of the chalice, pristine and pure, of that ideology without supreme saviors, without Caesar or bourgeoisie or God… today we say a controversy in the practical application of the laws of dialectics. And, thanks to this resistance they would keep making movies that never turned their backs on reality and that today maintain intact their rebellion against bureaucratic ukases and diktats.

So our protest is also confirmed by the pretension of excluding us from decision-making in the supposed restructuring of the ICAIC and the insistence, for more than two years, in the belief in a Film Law that guarantees the recognition of an independent production and a movie institute that promotes and protects national filmmaking and not one that monopolizes and controls it, because there is no… (There is an official claim of legitimate institutions eroded by a future that has exceeded its capacity for functional readjustment to meet new demands imposed by a very distinct present very different from that which motivated its origin. See the documentary, “Put me on the list…”)

The Cremata case falls within the ideological debate which has marked the destiny of a process that needs to keep alive the historic memory of its cultural work so as not to continue committing and supporting errors that put this valuable cultural treasure in danger, a critical thermometer that no censorship will be able to disconnect while we are able to act in consequence and committed to our civic duty.

*Translator’s note: Desmerengamiento was coined by Fidel Castro to embody, in a single word, the debacle of the Soviet Union. It comes from the word “meringue” and, like a failed meringue, refers to the idea of a complete collapse.