"Soy Cuba." I am Cuba. The words resonate throughout Mikhail Kalatozov's cinematic valentine to the resilience and beauty of Cuba and its people. And the 1964 film of the same name is the logical kick-off for a mini-festival of Cuban films focusing on Cuban identity.
The series is a collaboration between Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Latin American Studies and the Mattress Factory, which is hosting a 10-month exhibition of Cuban artists.
Bill Judson, late of the Carnegie Museum of Art's defunct Film and Video Department, curated the series and chose 12 films, which will be presented in three thematic blocks of four, each complemented with guest speakers and designed to reinforce the Mattress Factory installations. The "Cuban Identity" segment runs from Oct. 8 through Oct. 17; "Architecture and the Movies" will screen in February, and "Love and Life in Cuba" will wrap up the series in April.
Judson promises that each section will have a mix of filmmakers and styles, while still addressing the cohesive theme. The Identity group incorporates the Russian-made, documentary-inspired Soy Cuba; the recent romantic comedy Guántanamera; a 1974 examination of Cuba's slave history in the artful El Otro Francisco; and Lucía, Humberto Solás' 1969 trilogy of three epochal Cuban women and a classic of world cinema. Each film will be presented by University of Pittsburgh faculty, and on Oct. 17, professor Michael Chanan, of the University of the West of England and author of Cuban Cinema, will give a lecture on "Cuba: Socialism and Identity in the Cinema."
"The broad themes, such as identity, are a useful device for helping the audience think about these films in a way they might not have if they were just going to the theater to look at them," says Judson. "And hopefully, these themes will help people make a connection with the exhibition works at the Mattress Factory."
Pittsburghers should also note that this will be rare chance to see films that don't often circulate -- and which concern a country that is often misrepresented or shrouded in mystery. While noting that most people's only exposure to Cuban film has been The Buena Vista Social Club, Judson says, "I chose films that I hope will show Cuba as a place other than this isolated island, and that might show facets of a country that viewers wouldn't necessary know or think about. I'm trying to make a modest assault on certain preconceptions -- to shift perspectives based upon the depictions of individual lives in these films. Cinema is an effective way to demystify cultures that appear strange or alien."