A significant showcase of Cuban women filmmakers began a tour of the United States on March 6th, 2013, in Los Angeles. The Cuban Women Filmmakers US Showcase, brought about by the Women in Film International Committee, Cuban Women Filmmakers Mediatheque, the Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematography (ICAIC), brings acclaimed directors Gloria Rolando, Marina Ochoa, Milena Almira, and actress Claudia Rojas.
The showcase features film screenings, panel discussions, and events to promote cultural exchange in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. A full schedule is available here, while here is a list of all of the films – mostly shorts by a long list of Cuban women – including Blanco Es Mi Pelo, Negro Mi Piel (White Is My Hair, Black My Skin) by Marina Ocho (1997), De Cierta Manera (One Way or Another) by Sara Gomez (1975), and Derecho de Ser (Right to Be) by Claudia Rojas (2013).
One of the directors who will participate in the showcase, Gloria Rolando, is famous for her documentaries on Afro-Cuban topics. Rolando studied Art History in Cuba, and through this line of inquiry, came to work with many famous filmmakers – documentarians in particular – from Cuba, including Santiago Alvarez and Rogelio Paris. She is also quite active in the group Imagenes del Caribe (Caribbean Images)
Rolando visited Indiana University in 2010, when she sat down with BFC/A director Michael Martin to discuss her influences, the state of Cuban filmmaking, and what the future holds. In anticipation of the Cuban Women Filmmakers US Showcase, and to elucidate some of the themes that Gloria Rolando deals with, we’re releasing here some interesting selections from Martin’s unpublished interview with Rolando.
* * * *
BLACK FILM CENTER/ARCHIVE: That distinctiveness concerns your sustained interrogation and recovery of the black experience largely in Cuba. My question to you is why have you chosen to devote your life’s work to the study of the African diaspora?
GLORIA ROLANDO: I grew up in a very, very humble black family. My father was a shoemaker, my mother made clothes, and my grandmother, whose hands I never will forget, used to work as a domestic in the houses of other people. She was a character; she’d never talk about age, she’d talk about life. She told me how in Santa Clara in the 30s and 40s black people would walk around the park while white people would walk inside the park; it was the custom of that time.
She told me about the Union Fraternal, the society for black people in Havana, and another black society for those who were doctors or lawyers or teachers. I remember that she used to say, “Maybe you will attend Club Athena because you have your title, you graduated, you are a professional.” In school, though, I never heard about this kind of history. After some time, I held on to all this information, and when I started to make films I wanted to see these kind of very humble people, but very proud and with a lot of dignity.
BFC/A: In your work, you’ve largely made documentaries. Why this genre and form of storytelling? Why documentary?
GR: Well, I was a part of the documentary school mostly because of who I worked with at the ICAIC. The first project that I worked on in the ICAIC was with Santiago Villafuerte. It was a story about the migration of people from Haiti after the Haitian revolution. It’s the documentary that is called Tumba Francesa. So I did all the research and it was my first work and also my first script, Tumba Francesa with Santiago Villafuerte. I discovered that through hours of historical research for the documentary that I got in touch with the main characters of the story. I discovered something that would help me to discover Cuban culture to know more about my country. So I said, “Ah! The cinema will help me. And a documentary about war will help me to know more about Cuban culture,” because I had never learned about Tumba Francesa and all these black people that are going to white clubs and speaking another language.
BFC/A: Gloria, let’s talk a little bit about Images of the Caribbean. What is Images of the Caribbean?
GR: It’s a family relationship, friends—it’s not a company. People think that it’s a company. No! First, it’s not possible to do this in Cuba (laughs). No, we’re separate from a company.
People ask me how it is possible to have so many projects going at once. Well, it’s because I am a member of the National Video Movement and each project has a different story. My Footsteps in Baraguá was the first one that I loved so much; it was with the help of so many people.
In a general sense, though, we would like to be part or to re-create or to catch the images of the people who don’t have voices for themselves. They are part of the history, they made the history, and they appear as general topics in books. In Spanish we have a phrase about la historia de la gente sin historia –and we want to give voices to these people. You know, of course they made the history, of course they are part of the history, but they don’t have their own voice.
BFC/A: Let’s talk about your work-in-progress. What can you tell me about 1912: Breaking the Silence and its three part structure?
GR: Well, the first chapter is like an introduction. So I talk a little bit at the beginning and try to create some kind of expectation by talking about the injustice. We jump right in in the credits – with a young lad named Josenia. As a student in her psychology classes, students of all races would ask: “What did black people contribute to Cuban history?”
I didn’t include her answer in the film. Her answer is the documentary. She said, “I didn’t know either; I was worried because I didn’t have too much information, only about the Independent Party of Color.” She wasn’t clear about the rest of the Cuban history before the Independent Party of Color.
For this project, I listened to the voices of the young people. It’s the voice of the young generation in Cuba, and I am very concerned about how they teach the Cuban history. Of course it’s not only for young people; it’s for many other people that never take care of the Cuban history in this way. So for that reason I said, “Okay, I cannot get in touch directly to the Independent Party of Color. I need to do more.”
So I dedicated this first chapter to get in touch with different circles of different members of Cuban history, and now I have finished with the foundation of the party.