Cuban film industry waits for next revolution
By Carl DiOrio
March 20, 2008
The Yara is Havana's best-known cinema and draws especially well with
the date crowd on Saturdays. (Stephen Rivers photo)
HAVANA — On a star-filled December night in 1985, Julio Garcia Espinosa
found himself riding around Havana with Fidel Castro.
"We're going to build a school," Castro told the Cuban filmmaker.
"A film school?" Garcia asked. Film and television, he was told.
Castro, who often would hold meetings in his car if he wanted some
privacy, had joined Garcia Espinosa and his friend Gabriel Garcia
Marquez, the Colombian writer, during a reception that day for Jack
Lemmon and Gregory Peck. The Hollywood duo had come to inform Garcia
Espinosa — then head of ICAIC, the Cuban Film Institute — that the
organization had been sanctioned as the official sponsor of Cuban
entries in the Academy's foreign-film category.
"Fifteen days later, Fidel said, 'So do you have a curriculum yet?' "
Garcia Espinosa's wife Lola recalled with a laugh.
Today, the International School of Film and Television houses 117
full-time students, gleaned from throughout Latin America and a total of
50 countries over the ensuing 22 years.
"For a poor country like ours, to think about establishing a film school
was a great proof of our love of cinema," Garcia Espinosa told a
Situated 43 miles outside Havana, the school has a faculty comprised of
Cuban and international film professionals — ex-MGM and Fox executive
Sandy Lieberson taught a three-week course for several years — and
graduates from its three-year program have gone on to careers in the
active, if insular, Cuban film industry. There's also a highly
sophisticated animation school in Havana that's particularly active in
music videos and DVDs.
The trade embargo has kept American film studios from shooting in Cuba,
but the long-ago visit by Lemmon and Peck was hardly the last Hollywood
delegation to arrive in Havana. Visitors to ICAIC and the international
film school in recent years have included Steven Spielberg, Steven
Soderbergh, Francis Ford Coppola, Sean Penn, Leslie Moonves and Kevin
Costner, who screened the Cuban missile crisis film "Thirteen Days" for
With political change afoot in Cuba and perhaps also in the U.S., hope
is on the rise that Cuban filmmakers soon will be able to connect with
their U.S. colleagues more regularly. Writer-director Jorge Luis Sanchez
("El Benny") suggests there has been a recent trend toward greater
freedom of expression in their work.
"From the point of view of freedom of expression, there is more freedom
now than ever," Sanchez said. "The limits on us are financial."
Among future projects, Sanchez wants to shoot a film about three Cuban
kids and their experiences during a change in military government from
Spain to the U.S. in the 1890s.
"Maybe it can be the first Cuban-American co-production?" he suggested
with a wide grin.