“Havana is . . . the fantasy of People”: Filmmaker on capturing the “utopia” of Cuba in new doc

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“Epicentro,” director Hubert Sauper’s (“We Come as Pals“) fascinating, observational documentary about Cuba, opens with a person smoking a cigar the nation is legendary for. But the filmmaker, who was Oscar-nominated for “Darwin’s Nightmare,” is extra involved in diving deeper into how folks on this island nation stay. Sauper’s movie, which gained a World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at this 12 months’s Sundance Movie Competition, and is accessible via Kino Marquee beginning August 28, guides viewers to see the “actual” Cuba. 

He follows Leonelis Arango Salas, a younger lady he deems a “younger prophet,” who desires to be an actress. He encounters Cuban musicians singing “Guantanamera” on the streets of Havana. He observes folks consuming rum in bars (and will get drunk himself). He greets a lady named Clarita in her house and observes dance lessons. “Epicentro” even visits an deserted sugar manufacturing facility that used to provide Coca-Cola

As well as, Sauper’s movie provides ideas about tourism, (together with intercourse tourism), however it additionally travels again in time, to the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898, to discover American hegemony and imperialism, in addition to concepts of utopia, freedom, and slavery. After all, there’s a dialogue of Castro.

In “Epicentro” Sauper makes use of the “hypnotic prism” that’s cinema to touch upon all these socio-political themes. He movies Cuban youngsters laughing at “The Nice Dictator” amongst different Chaplin movies, and has Oona Castilla Chaplin, Charlie’s granddaughter, performing songs and enacting a dramatic scene with Leonelis. 

What emerges is a vibrant portrait of a folks and a nation that’s attempting to keep up its personal identification with out international interference. Sauper chatted with Salon about Cuba, the U.S. and his new movie, “Epicentro.”

What prompted your fascination with Cuba and the creation of this documentary? 

Cuba is fascinating to most individuals on the planet. For hundreds of years it has been the friction line between the brand new world and the outdated world, and the epicenter of the Spanish imperial entity. Havana was the primary cosmopolitan, globalized metropolis as a result of folks from all continents met there. It was the epicenter of slave commerce, the Chilly Conflict, and Communist and Capitalist pondering constructions. 

Had you been to Cuba earlier than? Do you know what to anticipate to come across? 

I used to be there 20-25 years in the past. Cuba is part of America and Europe, and culturally, there are issues I knew from Africa that I discovered once more in Cuba. I felt at house rapidly there. Havana is, in a approach, America at its finest — it is the fantasy of People. That is why it is so fascinating — the automobiles, and this look into the previous. For Europeans, too. One thing I did not deal with within the movie was that Cuba, to me, is a window into the long run as a result of it is a attainable situation of what occurs when international constructions and industries break down, like sugar. Life continues in a really totally different type in a post-industrial society.

How did you identify that you’d comply with topics corresponding to Leonelis or Clarita? Why did they make the very best contributors?

It is laborious to say. Why did I select Mozart to open the movie? The selections should not conceptual. The concepts are, however the precise alternative of characters is by encounter. How do I work together with folks and what do I see in them when it comes to archetypes and figures for a film? Clarita is among the thousands and thousands of ladies in Cuba who’re struggling. She has a child and do not know make a dwelling. A few of these [women] are pushed into actual poverty and prostitution. Clarita is among the variations that the youngsters might turn out to be. The strain, I hope you have got as a viewer, is that you simply stay with the youngsters and check out to determine what will occur to them. Will they stay on the street and provides a therapeutic massage to a German vacationer, or examine or stay overseas? That pressure is fascinating to me.  

“Epicentro” examines the facility of cinema to make impressions on folks — the manipulation of cinema. Are you able to discuss the way in which your documentary each creates actuality but in addition influences it? 

Sure, “Epicentro” is a film. I, Hubert, am part of the fact I am describing. I am clearly manipulating actuality and attempt to enact one thing. However I am additionally overwhelmed by what’s taking place round me. I am consistently enjoying with the query: What’s actuality, or faux, or true? I replicate on it in a playful and real-time approach.

If I am making use of the identical strategies to the issues I am criticizing, I’m enjoying with an open hand of playing cards. Within the movie, there’s a scene of the youngsters in class watching a person discuss over a silent film being proven. That was an actual faculty and actual kids reacting to what they noticed. However they’re bluffed by the true look of pretend pictures. Any visually literate individual understands that, and I am enjoying with it. I am not pretending to say that I walked into faculty and somebody was speaking about cinema from the 1890s. It is staged, however it would not take away from the fact of what’s taking place or being proven. What I am documenting is what I see — the Cuba I see. However I’m there with my very own questions and my very own confusion and the paradox of me being in that scenario and understanding that historical past. 

You characteristic Oona Chaplin and present a number of Chaplin movies to the Cuban kids. Why did you embrace her in your documentary? 

It was a wierd scenario. I shot the scene the place the youngsters try to get my cellphone and make a movie on the rooftop of a home. They knew work quick ahead and sluggish movement — which I did not know myself, by the way in which — on my cellphone. They made these movies in entrance of me. And abruptly Chaplin appeared. It was ghost-like in a approach. I known as Oona, she’s a good friend, and advised her to return, and she or he fell in love with the youngsters. We created a scene — Leonelis desires to be an actress, so “This is an actress. Do a scene.” Oona has a Cuban background; a part of her life was spent in Cuba.

Cuba is outlined by symbols corresponding to cigars, sugar, rum, however you focus extra on Fidel and what he means to Cubans. Are you able to focus on that?

Locations like Cuba are so overloaded from issues which have been overstressed — pictures and clichés. It is not possible to make a foul picture in Havana as a result of every little thing appears to be like superb! However additionally it is filled with clichés. Fidel died after I began to shoot the movie, that is why it is within the movie. I wasn’t going to deal with the Castro facet. It is an essential a part of the Cuban historical past, however it’s been talked about an excessive amount of. The person standing on the globe [it’s a floor design] says, “Cuba is a utopia, however I do not know what utopia means.”

It isn’t one thing I intellectualized. Once you open a film, you strike a contract with the viewers. You are actually in a cinema and comply with a narrative you might not be used to following. Speaking about one thing summary provides you a movie. You’ll be able to sink into it, or you’ll be able to refuse it. Each reactions are [legitimate]. The person with a cigar who opens the movie will not be a conceptual concept. It is an concept to create a temper. He had a cigar as a result of many individuals have cigars. The affiliation you have got is the precise one. I do not need to lead you to one thing particular. I need you to really feel the rhythm and the story beginning.

There is a terrific scene of Leonelis and her associates admiring an costly pen that prices greater than $2,300 U.S. {dollars}. They discuss their households incomes four pesos a day and work out how lengthy it could take to purchase that pen. What observations do you have got in regards to the inequality in a rustic that’s modeled on a utopian premise the place everybody is meant to have what they want?

I believe that is what I wished to provide. Utopia as an idea is exclusive, however we now have to concentrate on it. Utopian typically turns into dystopian. What’s unusual is that after I studied Thomas Extra’s e-book “Utopia,” and I appeared on the constitution from the Cuban revolution, it mainly quotes Extra’s e-book. The headlines of the revolution have been pulled from “Utopia,” which was written 500 years earlier! 

I beloved the ideas within the movie about tourism, and the way it’s “superficial.” There are scenes of a pair taking part in intercourse tourism, and even a photographer buying and selling a pen for {a photograph} of a younger boy, maybe exploiting his topic. Are you able to focus on these themes?

Tourism is a type of invasion, and all of us are vacationers. We’re the wave. I believed that the imagery of a soldier armed with weapons plowing right into a city is much like vacationers armed with cameras — an identical sort of invasion. The sheer picture of the man from New York gifting away pen. He is armed actually like a man in Baghdad. Mass tourism was invented by a God-fearing half-crazy Thomas Cook dinner, which is the identify of a journey company now within the UK. He Invented mass tourism and obtained wealthy folks from Britain to find the Nile in large boats.

There’s appreciable anti-Trump sentiment from the Cuban folks. What would you like viewers to grasp about American hegemony after seeing “Epicentro”?

I am not American, however I grew up with People, and I do know it isn’t a lot totally different than Europe; Europeans went to America to kill Apaches. It is complicated. There is a dialectic in my movies of haves and have-nots, North and South. In America and Europe, we now have microphones and cameras, and we discuss, so once you go to Sudan or Cuba, we will be taught extra about ourselves if we’re listening rigorously. It isn’t in regards to the others, it is about what we’re doing there. The hegemony is a reality, and the intervention is painful — Baghdad, Vietnam — the prototype was the Spanish-American warfare. That was the Beta model of an entire century of interventionism. It created a story of liberating Cuba.

“Epicentro” is accessible in digital cinemas starting Friday, Aug. 28.


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