Cuban music promoter Rodolfo Rensoli
The incapacitation through illness of 80-year-old Cuban president Fidel Castro over the past two months has put Cuba in the media spotlight, with developments in Cuba having major regional and international implications. And yet, in Britain at least, there is little in-depth coverage of the country. A double-bill of documentaries on Cuba at Riverside Studios in West London last week was therefore much to be welcomed.
The first film to be shown was the absorbing “Balseros”, directed by Carlos Bosch and Josep M Domenech, which follows a number of Cubans and their relatives in 1994 before they attempt hazardous sea crossings to the US. The film catches up with them seven years later to find out what became of them.
The second film on the bill was “Hasta Siempre” directed and filmed by Ishmahil Blagrove Jr. The subtitle of the film - “Will the Revolution Survive Tomorrow?” - is increased relevance now. After the film Blagrove fielded questions from the audience together with Sean Mendez, who produced the film with his brother Yannis Mendez.
“Hasta Siempre” was made by London-based riceNpeas Films. This independent film production company aims to make films that accurately represent the live and stories of the people it records, without bias or prejudice.
Blagrove noted that when the film was shown in June at Canning House in London the Cuban press attaché said it was the most balanced documentary made about Cuba. “Some right wing friends that we have also said it was balanced.”
Historian Tomas Fernandez says that the freedom to talk openly about problems has increased, in a way that would have been inconceivable 15 years ago. One problem is racism. Blagrove is black, and he experienced racism first hand when he was stopped and questioned by Cuban police in a way his white colleagues were not.
The 57-minute film, which is full of the color, spirit and music of Cuba, takes us right into the life of the country through its interviewees. They include a psychologist, a Marxist intellectual, a poet, a music promoter, housewives, taxi drivers, rappers, hip-hop artists and a young man desperate to leave Cuba.
After the collapse of Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba opened up to tourism as a means of economic survival. Tourism has brought changes including consumerism, and has exacerbated problems such as racism, prostitution and disparities between those who do and do not have access to tourist dollars.
The interviewees generally express appreciation for the free education and health care brought by the 1959 revolution. Film director Belkis Vega says that her middle class family was hit economically, but in terms of thought, development and human values, “those of us who stayed here benefited from the revolution.”
An elderly former revolutionary is the most critical voice in the film. He describes Cuba as a “socialist dictatorship or, rather, communist,” and bemoans the lack of opposition parties and free elections.
The film shows the attachment of many Cubans to the non-materialistic aspects of Cuban life. Vega says: “If the revolution doesn’t survive Castro, it would be very sad. To have sacrificed so many years for ideals that didn’t survive the human being who initiated them. But he’s not the only fighter. Many Cubans are still willing to defend those ideals.” The poet Jesus con Causse asserts: “If there’s an American invasion of Cuba even the ants will defend the Revolution.”
Saudi Gazette, October 6 2006