By Elias Kamal Jabbe*
LOS ANGELES — Cubana cineastas Marina Ochoa, Claudia Rojas, Milena Almira discussed their filmmaking experiences during a Cuban cinema showcase in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California on March 11 2013. The inaugural Cuban Women Filmmakers Mediatheque event organized by the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC), Women In Film International Committee (WIFI) and other partners showed Almira’s «El Grito» (The Scream) and five other films at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
These screenings and the ensuing panel completed a series of Cuban cinema events throughout Southern California that started with an inaugural program on International Women’s Day. That event took place at Hollywood’s legendary Egyptian Theatre, which is home to many international-centric film festivals, and featured honorary hosts such as Benicio Del Toro and Isabel Cueva as well as cuisine provided by LA’s popular Cuban restaurant Versailles.
Cine de cubanas
Ruby Lopez, who serves as co-chair of WIFI and was the moderator of the USC panel, says the showcase was an opportunity to highlight Cuba’s oft-overlooked women filmmakers and the Caribbean island nation’s diversity.
«We’re happy to feature Gloria Rolando and the film ‘De Cierta Manera’ by the late Sara Gómez. Both have been strong advocates of Afro-Cuban heritage and Gómez was the first female filmmaker in the ICAIC,» said Lopez, who added that more information about the showcase’s events in Miami and New York is available at www.wif.org/cuba.
The panel at USC represented the past, present and future of Cuban cinema. Almira, the youngest panelist, just graduated from film school several years ago and made “El Grito” in 2007 for a project during her third and final academic year.
“I made ‘El Grito’ with two friends and filming equipment provided by ICAIC. Though we didn’t have much in terms of a budget, the courses we took at our university were free, the equipment we used was free and our professors were very knowledgeable. It was therefore up to us as students to utilize our creativity 100 percent,” said Almira, a native of Havana whose films have won awards in Cuba and other countries.
Ochoa, who is from Holguin, has been involved in Cuban cinema in various capacities for over three decades and has also branched out by conducting research and writing plays like “Nunca dejes de soñar” (Never stop dreaming). She said the showcase was important because it represented an initiative that was critical not only for her and her colleagues, but for all women filmmakers worldwide. Noting “la invisibilad de ellas,” Ochoa said the lack of exposure for women making films in Cuba and other countries needs to be countered by building partnerships.
“In the last 50 years in Cuba, three feature films have been made by women. Fortunately, ICAIC has started to help change this status quo by organizing this showcase. We want to work not only with women filmmakers, but also with women graphic designers who can help us design movie posters. Ultimately, we want to collaborate with partners around the world, but we are starting first in the United States and countries in the Caribbean,” said Ochoa, whose 1998 documentary “Julieta busca a Romeo” (Juliet is looking For Romeo) was screened on March 9.
The panel featured translation of comments from Spanish to English by NYU film professor Catherine Murphy, who teaches a course called Cuba in the World: an Intercambio, and was rounded out by actress and director Claudia Rojas. The Havana native, who amazed the crowd by filming the panel on her personal camcorder while answering some of the questions, said anyone who wants to make films to present to the world should start by knowing themselves («el autoconocimiento»).
“Having knowledge of self is essential in order to create love. We create love through cinema,» said Rojas, who studied method acting in Mexico and whose directing efforts have explored Cuba’s diverse regions and communities such as the Yoruba.
Ochoa added that the 25 films screened in LA (March 8-11), New York (March 13-17) and Miami (18-25) were chosen because they offered a provocative look at women’s issues in her country. She added that the cinema landscape that Almira and other young filmmakers operate in is different because they have resources that were not available when she started her career.
«In my generation, we didn’t have a film school. Students graduated with various degrees and then learned cinema by making films,» said Ochoa, a journalism and sociology graduate who hopes the showcase will help raise awareness and funds for Cuban women filmmakers.
«We’re starting to seek funding to support our initiatives because we think there is a huge gap that needs to be closed.»
**Elias Kamal Jabbe is the Founding Editor of MulticulturalMatters.org