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Juan Antonio García Borrero: “God laughs at us when he sees us think”

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Juan Antonio knows every little thing about Cuban cinema. Or almost every little thing: for instance, he doesn’t remember the name of every one among the projectionists who’ve passed through the Yara movie show since its foundation, nor the worth of popcorn within the Nineteen Fifties, when this imposing installation was called Radiocentro. About every little thing else, you’ll be able to ask him.

Between 1993 and 2015 he coordinated the National Workshops on Film Criticism, crucial theoretical event for specialists within the sector. In his curricular synthesis it’s stated that the Guía crítica del cine cubano de ficción, of his authorship, “is taken into account in the meanwhile probably the most ambitious research on the seventh art on the island, registering for the primary time in a volume the silent production, pre-revolutionary and revolutionary talky, including the productions of the creative film clubs, the Film Workshop of the Hermanos Saíz Association, the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School, the Film Studios of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the Film Studios of Television, amongst others.” This volume earned him the Literary Critics Award in 2002, an award that he would receive again in 2004 for the book La edad de la herejía; and in 2010, for Otras maneras de pensar el cine cubano.

Juani is a lovable guy, easily accessible and, at the identical time, a solid mental and a thinker of the national reality. In 2006, the Fundación Carolina de Madrid awarded him one among the prizes it allocates to Latin America to support its research. For his part, the Alejo Carpentier Foundation awarded him the Razón de ser Award for his Tomás Gutiérrez Alea biography project, a text that, perfectionist as he’s, he has not finished delivering to the print shop.

Otherwise, Juan Antonio García Borrero (1964) lives and works in Camagüey, his hometown. Between blackouts and contours of many hours, he tries to proceed his enormous tasks, convinced that safeguarding the history of Cuban cinema is his mission in life.

What’s your skilled training?

I even have a Law Degree from the University of Camagüey. I graduated in 1987, but I did little practice as a lawyer, since in 1990 I began working on the Provincial Film Center of Camagüey, an establishment where I still work. It seems incredible to me that I even have remained in the identical place for greater than thirty years, especially in these times where labor nomadism is becoming increasingly more natural. Anyway, I even have never renounced the profession I studied. Quite the opposite. It has helped me rather a lot to defend my ideas and what I consider my rights.

In Santa Clara, circa 2019. All photos have been taken from the Digital Encyclopedia of Cuban Audiovisual (ENDAC).

How did you discover cinema? How does this grow to be passion, first; after which, field for the exercise of historiography and criticism?

I associate the invention with my mother, who took me to the Teatro Principal in my city to see the film The Vikings, by Richard Fleischer. I suppose there’s quite a lot of fantasy in that, because before that I had to fulfill the matinee cartoons on the America movie show. However the image of my mother accompanying me to see that movie by Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis is recurrent. From then on, I remember every little thing as if I were living my very own life sitting in a movie show. I remember copying within the notebooks I utilized in the Máximo Gómez Báez Vocational School the titles of the films I saw, with the names of the actors and actresses, which I learned by heart. In the future I discovered that in town there was an individual named Luciano Castillo, who was answerable for something they called “cinema club,” and who wrote within the newspaper Adelante comments in regards to the movies that were projected within the Guerrero movie show, as a part of the cycles programmed by the Cinematheque of Cuba. That was essential for my training, now not as a cinephile (which I had in my veins), but as someone who’s excited about discovering just what’s behind what that easy cinephilia doesn’t allow us to see, since it is just emotion. Each time I even have the chance I repeat it, since it is my way of showing gratitude: I even have had 4 great teachers on this personal interest in constructing my very own world when approaching the audiovisual phenomenon: Luciano Castillo, who introduced me to the universe of cinema as art; Julio García-Espinosa, who planted in me the vice of rethinking every little thing based on critical considering; Ana López, who taught me that, beyond the island, there’s a greater Cuba; and Desiderio Navarro, the one who most definitely encouraged me to take seriously the creative use of new technologies for cultural promotion.

What were the movie theaters like in your childhood? Any favorite one?

That query is cruel, since it jogs my memory that I used to be born right into a world that now not exists. I could describe what the movie theaters of my childhood were like within the physical order, but “going to the films” (as my generation did) was rather more than sitting in a dark room to enjoy a story. The flicks, and that is something studied by the “New Cinema History” and every little thing that has to do with the “culture of the screen,” were the nice pretext for meeting friends and enemies in the identical space, and, with the excuse of seeing a movie, fall in love, or show dislike for what we didn’t like. I feel that we were more “real,” and due to this fact closer to the actual dramas that haunt us as individuals. In Camagüey, on the time I began working on the Provincial Film Center, nine movie theaters were still operating. My favorite was the Guerrero movie show, since it was where the Cinematheque was programmed and, generally, art and essay cinema. Although going to Casablanca, when a movie was being released, was an actual party, especially when the queues reached the opposite corner, as happened with La Bella del Alhambra, or before with La vida sigue igual, which perhaps is probably the most box-office film that has been shown in Camagüey.

Within the Callejón de los Milagros, Camagüey, 2022.

When did you first take part in the International New Latin American Film Festival? How did you reside that have? Anything specifically that has had a remarkable significance for you?

For those of us who live within the provinces, the International New Latin American Film Festival continues to be something exceptional. Not only due to movies you’ll be able to see in a singular environment, but in addition due to opportunities to exchange with professionals that you simply would otherwise never be near. Now I couldn’t specify which was my first festival. Perhaps it coincided with my entry to the Provincial Film Center in Camagüey, as head of the Promotion Department, which allowed me to receive aid for accommodation, transportation, etc. From the start the Festival seemed magical to me, but I had not yet had the chance to go to other festivals on the earth, and discover that with this one in Havana there was something exceptional by way of public response. Numerous movie theaters where, even with a journalist’s credential, you will have to determine methods to get into certain screenings. It was something really extravagant.

Photoshoot of the documentary “Simulacro” (2018), by Laura Batista.

You may have participated in universities and international congresses with lectures and presentations on Cuban cinema. Is there an actual interest within the aesthetic category of our cinema or is the general public that attends these events more motivated to find out how life is lived in Cuba?

There may be every little thing. There are individuals who resort to cinema made by Cubans to get an idea of ​​how life is lived in Cuba. But there’s also a remarkable group of students who’ve managed to create a big body of ideas. I do not forget that sooner or later I commented that Cuban cinema was a lot better studied outside Cuba than inside Cuba. In countries like the USA, the UK and France, for instance, you could find quite a lot of research that, unfortunately, will not be yet known or discussed in our country. Today things have modified, and you’ll be able to already find an enormous bibliography inside Cuba through which a growing theoretical maturity is revealed, but the talk on the ideas that preceded us stays pending. Above all, the ideas that flow into in the educational circles, that are those that originated in these countries that I discussed to you.

I see that one among your books is titled Cine cubano de los sesenta: mito y realidad. Is it a myth that the Nineteen Sixties gave rise to a few of the most notable movies in our history: Las doce sillas (Titón, 1962), Ciclón (Santiago Álvarez, 1963), Hanoi, martes 13 (Santiago Álvarez, 1965), Now (Santiago Álvarez, 1965), Muerte de un burócrata (Titón, 1966), Manuela (Solás, 1966), La hora de los hornos (Santiago Álvarez, 1966), Las Aventuras de Juan Quin Quin (Julio García Espinosa, 1967), Memories of Underdevelopment (Titón, 1968), Lucía (Solás, 1968).… explain such a creative explosion in such a short while, when the national cinematography was on the dawn of the industry?

That’s precisely one among the paradoxes that I even have tried to debate in that book you mention. The Cuban cinema of the Nineteen Sixties made by the ICAIC was accompanying one among the political processes that has most impacted the imaginary of that twentieth century: the revolution led by Fidel Castro. And it’s assumed that when ICAIC was born it had much of an experiment, just like the revolution itself. In consequence, the documentary school was capable of stand out, but not fiction cinema, which only achieved what are still our great classics towards the top of the last decade (specifically around 1968): Memories of Underdevelopment, Lucía, Las aventuras de Juan Quin Quin, and La primera carga al machete. Now, insisting on granting the character of a “prodigious decade” to what, by obligation, had to answer learning, is nearly a request for principles where the providential could be explaining the magnitude of what has been achieved. And that doesn’t leave me satisfied, since the approach to cinema is presupposed to be multidimensional, and never from idealism and teleology, but from rigorous remark.

With Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Titón) through the filming in Camagüey of some sequences of the film “Guantanamera” in 1995.

Tell us briefly in regards to the Digital Encyclopedia of the Cuban Audiovisual (ENDAC). Its gestation, its ups and downs, its current state. Do you’re thinking that it could grow to be your life’s work?

The Enciclopedia Digital del Audiovisual Cubano (Digital Encyclopedia of the Cuban Audiovisual), as a platform, is in moment. It’s improper for me to say it, but I believe it’s the one place where you could find the identical details about silent movies in Cuba, the pre-revolutionary movies, those made after 1959, inside or outside the island, or information in regards to the movie theaters, publications, the technologies used, socialization spaces reminiscent of film clubs or festivals. What’s making the difference by way of ENDAC is the proposal that it makes of what I call “the nation’s audiovisual body,” which could be rather more than those stories of “national cinema” which have dominated and proceed to dominate to this point. in our studies on the Cuban audiovisual. For me, the “audiovisual body of the nation” is a type of Borgean Aleph that permits us to bring together, and at the identical time radiate, all that infinite diversity of practices related to the production and consumption of moving pictures linked to Cuba. Personally, it has been a type of Copernican revolution, insofar because it has allowed me to understand this production (with all its modalities) through the transnational approach, articulating the varied in a single platform that, nonetheless, couldn’t be more flexible. While elsewhere iron borders are being established (ICAIC, Young Cinema, Diaspora Cinema, etc.), here what we wish is to abolish that feeling that, to go from one place to a different, you will have to undergo customs, with the cultural police asking for the documentation that identifies you (that’s, labels you). Then again, probably the most interesting thing in regards to the ENDAC is that it should all the time be under everlasting construction. I believe that greater than a database it’s a knowledge base. Sure, it should work higher to the extent that others contribute to its growth; but, unfortunately, our relationship with the Digital Humanities continues to be precarious. It is a project that’s online because of the support of Alex Halkin, director of the Americas Media Initiative, who sooner or later decided to support it, because here in Cuba I never found institutional support, and today I proceed to update it independently from Los Coquitos, a community away from the urban center of Camagüey. I wish I could find sooner or later the support that permits me to dedicate all my strength to it, because, obviously, a project of this kind can’t be sustained with good intentions alone.

How does cinema take part in the development of identity? What’s stable and what’s mutating in the development of identity? Can Cuban cinema be compared with Mexican or Argentine cinema, which within the last century contributed to creating national stereotypes which can be still used today?

Here I could return to a few of the issues that I discussed within the previous answer. For me, identity is something that’s consistently under construction, because there are Cubans who, within the midst of the snow, proceed to assume that they belong to that imagined community that we call Cuba. For me, El Super (1979), by León Ichaso and Orlando Jiménez Leal, is as Cuban as Memories of Underdevelopment. And although these filmmakers have needed to insert themselves right into a foreign context, cope with a language that they don’t master at first, and with cultural practices that don’t have anything to do with their very own, they proceed to construct that Cubanness that I prefer to associate with mystery, as an alternative of offering definitions that impoverish or imprison it conceptually.

Has the Cuban public lost its predilection for its cinema?

I prefer to be cautious when answering that. I’d lack scientific tools to prove one thing or the opposite, but when I let myself be carried away by impressionism, I believe not. Although something is real: now the Cuban public doesn’t have greater autonomy to access the cinema they need, and clearly, the audiovisual that Cubans make has only a few resources in comparison with those utilized by the dominant cinema relating to promoting itself.

Are you continue to working on the biography of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea? Obstacles? Incitements?

I finished a primary version that’s 800 pages long, but I’m still not satisfied. I never wanted it for use as a biography, but relatively an mental biography that permits us to look at the time that Titón lived through, from probably the most diverse angles. I even have published a primary part because of Oriente publishers, and a few fragments on my social networks. But I still haven’t decided to deliver what’s ready.

Book cover.
Book cover.
Book cover.

In the longer term, will it’s possible to totally understand how we Cubans were in these last six many years without dusting off the audiovisual archives produced within the country?

But I’d not speak only of six many years. Your entire history of that cinema made by Cubans because the cinematographer arrived on the island by the hands of Gabriel Veyre, has been describing how we’ve got been, or how we’ve got desired to be. Sometimes even by default. It’s then essential to preserve all that set of images and encourage critical considering that examines them in depth.

How do you imagine yourself ten years from now?

Well, I’ve all the time considered myself a tragic optimist. That signifies that day by day I get up with the sensation that I woke up alive by a pure miracle, and immediately, grateful, I start working on what I like, which is writing, especially about Cuban cinema. So, if I get there, I’ll probably be surprised at the identical thing: writing. I don’t know where, but what I can’t imagine is doing something else. In fact, there’s that old proverb that I like a lot: “God laughs at us when he sees us think.”

Avatar photo Alex Fleites

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