It is very probable that the 8th Congress of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), held April 11 and 12, will become a historic event, though not precisely due to the transcendence of the agreements approved by its delegates. Among all the meetings held until now this one will be remembered especially for the discussions generated by the proposal presented by a group of filmmakers about the creation of a new Cuban Cinema Law, and the lukewarm reception among the event’s leaders, who did not consider the initiative a priority.
According to Prensa Latina News Agency, the promoters of the law requested that the participants’ backing of that legislation be collected in the report of the Culture and Media commission, “but those responsible for drawing up the text considered it unnecessary.” For his part, neither did writer Abel Prieto, former Culture Minister and now advisor to the Cuban Presidency, believed it “prudent to force that priority on a country with such a tight legislative agenda.”
Despite the argumentations in favour of the draft law, among which the speech by filmmaker Rebeca Chávez stood out when underlining the need to create a legal instrument much more adjusted to the “new realities and circumstances” that today characterise the sector, and in accordance with the transformations being promoted on the island, the truth is that the results of the event disappointed the expectations of the filmmakers in terms of the backing they were expecting to find in the most important meeting of Cuban artists.
As some delegates recalled, the existing law on cinematographic production was issued in March 1959 and it established the creation of the Cuban Institute of Cinema Arts and Industry (ICAIC), which since then has led audiovisual production in the country. But according to many filmmakers, young as well as veterans, what was formerly one of the most important cultural institutions in Cuba is in need of urgent changes that allow it to adopt more dynamic and efficient production schemes, as well as supporting and promoting the inclusion of different ways of doing.
Since early last year a representative group of filmmakers of several generations had started discussing and agreeing on ideas about the evident need for introducing changes in the leadership conceptions of that agency of unquestionable cultural leadership. In a recent interview for the magazine Progreso semanal, renowned director Fernando Pérez highlighted the fact that during the first meeting, held May 4, 2013, filmmakers with a long work trajectory in ICAIC and young people who had never had relations with that institution met for the first time in one same space. And that unprecedented fact of confronting ideas, of recognising concerns and common needs of all those generations with opinions, experiences, and even differentiated aesthetic conceptions, was in itself extremely valuable and enriching.
The meetings lasted throughout almost a year, and they even involved the leadership of ICAIC and the National Assembly of People’s Power deputies. On March 29, 2014, a few days before the start of the 8th Congress of UNEAC, the filmmakers met in the Fresa y Chocolate Cinema Cultural Centre. There, the members of the so-called g-20 (made up by representatives elected by their colleagues) handed over to those summoned the document for the “Diagnosis and policies for the transformation of Cuban cinema and ICAIC,” on which they had worked in recent months. Moreover, it was announced that the leadership of that agency and of the Culture Ministry would deliver this document – “where the majority of the aspirations of the filmmakers are reflected” – to the Cuban government, and concretely to the commission in charge of implementing the Economic Policy Guidelines approved at the Sixth Congress of the Party.
However, to the surprise of many, the proposal of the Law did not receive the expected recognition at the meeting of the artists, which is why everything seems to indicate that the initiative will advance uphill in the approval process that now is in the hands of the Culture Ministry, since it is the body in charge of requesting that the National Assembly consider the draft law.
If it were finally approved and work would start on a new legislation, it would be indispensable to take as a point of departure the proposal already presented by the filmmakers, thought and drawn up with the consensus of many, said Fernando Pérez in the cited interview published in Progreso semanal. In the opinion of he who is considered one of the most important directors of Cuban cinema of all times, “this cannot remain as something provisional,” while “it forms part of a bigger horizon” that would allow “establishing the bases for the Cuban audiovisual,” though he specified that the sense of this Law would not be “to control,” but rather “to regulate” the development of the sector.
Despite the obstacles that have to be overcome, it is important to recall that Cuban filmmakers already have some experience in this type of demands and in the majority of cases they have known how to bring their demands to a happy conclusion. They proved this when in 1991 they prevented the ICAIC from merging with the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) after the incident related to the film Alicia en el pueblo de maravillas, and which concluded with the return of Alfredo Guevara as the head of the agency and the repeal of the Council of State agreement that approved the disappearance of ICAIC.
During those times of internal crisis, it was perhaps their unity that led to maintaining the principal factor that led them to achieve their objective. But what many ask themselves now is how much more will they have to insist and wait to achieve the proposed goal and if, once the Law is approved, it will know how to adapt to the demands of the filmmakers, or like in other cases in which what has been achieved far from meets the interests and expectations regarding it.
The cinema industry encloses in itself a dichotomy that apparently makes it much more difficult for the government to make decisions about its possible transformation. In fact, the productive factor is as important a the ideological-aesthetic aspect of the work. But the need for a structural change that influences both aspects has already become evident with the emergence of work carried out on the sidelines of the industry by young creators (and by others no longer that young), and independent production companies which are responsible for a great deal of the audiovisual materials produced in recent years, and which exhibit a quality that has even allowed them to compete and win prizes in international festivals. It is then evident that when the filmmakers aspire to the approval of a new cinema Law, they are actually asking that something that is necessary and that in some way has already started working in practice be recognised.
Just to give an example of the issues to be resolved by this possible legislation, the proposal presented by the g-20 includes the possibility of using the platform of the Law on Non-Agricultural Cooperatives as a juridical support for the production companies that are already working independently, which does not exclude the study of other forms more adequate for the audiovisual media.
Because of all the aforementioned I sense that the big question that Cuban filmmakers are asking today encloses in itself a second question: When (and on what terms) will the Cuban Cinema Law get here? (2014)
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