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Posted January 30, 2006 by publisher in Cuban Movies

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VANESSA ARRINGTON | Associated Press

Cuban film director Juan Carlos Cremata’s new movie is about a young girl who runs away from home because her mother plans to leave Fidel Castro’s Cuba and she doesn’t want to go.

But “Viva Cuba” isn’t a political film - it’s a human one.

“It’s not that the girl wants to stay in Cuba because of the Revolution,” Cremata told the Associated Press in a recent interview. She wants to stay, he said, because Cuba “is where her friends are, where her school is, and above all, where her beloved grandmother is buried.”

Depoliticizing the subject of Cuban exiles is about as easy as taking the fruit out of an apple pie, but judging from the international reaction, Cremata has succeeded in moving beyond nationalism to reach a universal audience.

The film has swept awards in countries as politically and culturally varied as Guatemala, Germany, Taiwan and France, including the Grand Prix Ecrans Juniors from a panel of child judges at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

Now, the buzz is it could grab a nomination for a foreign-language Academy Award in the most anti-Castro country of all - the United States.

The Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, with awards presented March 5. “Viva Cuba” is among a record 58 entries in the foreign-language category - just five will be nominated.

Cremata loves his country, but does not consider himself a communist. He took great care to avoid all political references in the film.

It is never made clear what country the girl, who appears to be about 12, is supposed to move to. Her mother, separated from her father, simply spends much of her time on the phone with “a foreigner” complaining about everyday problems on the island. When young Malu overhears her making plans to leave, she runs away with her best friend, Jorge, heading to the remote eastern tip of Cuba, where her father works at a lighthouse.

The movie chronicles the pair’s adventures as they flee authorities across the island, from fancy beach resorts to provincial towns to the rural mountains. They sing, they fight, they get lost, they make up. They finally arrive at the lighthouse, but once there they realize they have nowhere else to run.

Cuban migration is in the director’s face daily: he lives near the American mission in Havana and sees his countrymen lining up every morning hoping to get U.S. visas.

But the issue is a global one for Cremata, who has lived in cities across the world, including New York for a year on a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

“The predicament of whether to leave or not to leave is not an exclusively Cuban problem,” he said. “It exists all over the world.”

Cremata himself chose his own country, returning to Cuba after his 1996 stint in the United States.

“It was this year, living in the center of New York, with lots of money and everything, that I realized all I wanted was to return to Cuba and make Cuban films,” he said.

The director’s first full-length film was “Nada,” or “Nothing,” a 2001 comedy that also revolves around the issue of emigration. The movie is the first in a trilogy, but Cremata is still looking for funding for the next two installations: “Nadie,” or “Nobody,” and “Nunca,” or “Never.”

“Nada” received international recognition, but Cuba’s official film institute was far from crazy about the movie, said the outspoken and sincere Cremata. When launching the “Viva Cuba” project, he said he faced closed doors, leading him to take an independent route, filming the entire movie with a small digital camera and 15-member staff.

“The whole process was very difficult, because no one wanted to help us on this film,” he said. “I had no idea where the film would take us. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to make Cuba’s first-ever children’s movie.”

The project became a family affair. Cremata pulled child actors from his brother’s internationally known theater group and tapped into his mother’s decades of experience in children’s television programming. Iraida Malberti, his mother, served as co-director of “Viva Cuba.”

Cremata even used his own grandmother to play the role of Malu’s grandmother, who dies near the beginning of the film after a comic scene in which the girl paints the elderly woman’s face with makeup.

The young actors preferred to work without a script, lending to the natural, confident tone throughout the movie. The small camera actually helped them relax, Cremata said.

“The kids played, they expressed themselves,” he said. “There were no problems working with them. Adult actors are themselves like children - only more spoiled.”

Cremata said he also resists adulthood at times. The 44-year-old director even dressed up as a uniformed Cuban schoolboy when presenting the movie at Havana’s international film festival in December.

The island’s film institute eventually warmed up to Cremata’s project - especially when it won the Cannes award, he said. “Now everyone in officialdom loves me,” he said.

Cremata grew up playing in the television studios where his mother worked, a world of “confusion between reality and fantasy.”

At 13, he lost his father in a 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.

Hardship helps breed creativity, Cremata said.

“In the third world, and of course in my country, the conditions of life are so difficult that imagination is beyond necessary - it’s urgent,” he said. “One needs to travel to another world to be able to endure the world in which he or she is living.”

Cremata, who loves silent movies and foreign films from countries like Iran, said he likes very little coming out of Hollywood, movies he finds “plastic” and predictable. The wealth and convenience of the United States seems to have obliterated the country’s originality, he said.

That’s why, perhaps, he has always returned home to Cuba, never joining the millions of Cubans living elsewhere.

“I believe that this country, with all of its problems, is still much richer in imagination, much richer in human warmth, than any developed country in the world,” he said.

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 31, 2006 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    Keep up the good work Mr. Cremata!

  2. Follow up post #2 added on July 01, 2008 by Vipul Goswami / INDIA

    Dear reader,
    Some days back i saw this movie and was really moved by the spirit of the movie, which is absolutely human by nature. Indeed the movie has political issues but they just make up the environment, the context.
    The movie touches the human soul and remained untouched of the serious matters of people as it focus straight on a average child’s life and all that things that are more important to us like friendship, the quality to remain alike before even after a quarrel. It seems, Senor Cremata has planned the movie well by making a real storyline from real circumstances.
    Movie was well edited also, por ejemplo some scenes semmed to be quite irrelevant at first but in the end they played a role. like burying up of tin box

    Living in other part of the world i hardly have some great idea about Cuba, but the movie has explained me about the culture and how life happens to be in Cuba.
    I deeply adore the characters played by Malu especially and Jorgito
    It was all in spanish and that too in a strange accent what i heard before but it was so near that i could feel the movie as if i’m watching a Hindi(my mothertongue) flick !
    A must watch !
    Kudos to the Director !


  3. Follow up post #3 added on July 01, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I saw the movie right on netflix. Great movie.

    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on July 09, 2008 by Hugo Gonzalez

    Hugo Gonzalez
    A subject impossible to depoliticize
    The online journal Havana Journal published on January 30, 2006 an article named Viva Cuba movie by Juan Carlos Cremata. On this one the author Vanessa Arrington from Associated Press describes how the last work from the semi-independent cuban movie director Juan Carlos Cremata is intended to touch an international social issue (migration) without showing the political side of it. She also gives a little introduction to the cinematography and talks about the background of the creator.
    The film tells the story of two kids that run away from home, in need of getting to the opposite end of the country to get to talk to the father of one of them in order to convince him of not giving permission to the mother to move with the child out of Cuba. The journalist argues that the film it’s more “human than political” Viva Cuba isn’t a political film it’s a human one, because it stays more on the human conflict going on in a family that wants to emigrate out of a third world country like Cuba, than on the facts that make that family even consider the option of leaving their home land. Arrington then recognizes how hard is to stay out of politics in a matter like the Cuban reality, in and out of the Island. But states that in her opinion the director accomplished his goal, because of the international recognition that the work achieved in different nations with different political sittuations and film festivals across the world, mentioning some like Guatemala, Germany, Taiwan and France, the internationally known Cannes Film Festival, and even the most controvercial and famous of all, the Oscar Academy Awards. The struggle of how the making of the movie was possible it’s one of the most interesting points of the article, because shows how everything in Cuba revolves around politics. Argumenting that the government or the Ministery of Culture denied help to produce the cinematography at first, because of the reputation of the director for making films with reaccionary topics (his first movie Nada).  Describing how the whole film had to be done using an unprofessional camera, and being helped by a very short staff, shows the contrast and contradiction within the article, that only critizes the movie from Cremata’s opinions and previous interviews, but if you get to know first how things in Cuba function you will find out that comments of this order could be manipulated too. The creativity of the director is exalted troughout the review, when the author mentions that Cremata used his own grandmother to act in the film, when he allowed the young actors to work without a script to facilitate their development in the movie without pressure, and when she tells the story of how Cremata dressed up with a traditional Cuban school uniform to present the movie at Havana’s international film festival. Getting more into the personal view and curriculum of Juan Carlos Cremata, the journalist narrates how the director is very concerned and familiar with the topic of migration, having stayed himself out of Cuba, in different cities around the world, addressing New York in particular and living right now very close to the American Office of Interests in the Caribbean archipelago, getting to see everyday from his window the struggle of Cuban citizenz to fly away looking for a better future. She affirms that Cremata has expressed himself the love for his nation, but has recognized to disagree with communist ideals. Of his previous work she points out the 2001 comedy “Nada”, the first movie of a trilogy that develop itself on the same topic (migration). And of his personal life, his cinematographical taste for silent movies and foreign films, and even his dislike for the material coming out of Hollywood, citing the Cuban creator saying the wealth and convenience of the United States seems to have obliterated the country’s originality.
    I disagree with the main idea of this article. Having myself watched the film, and frankly ejoyed Because eventhought it was very light in content and made for a young audience, I do believe that the movie had political thoughts all over it. And more than hard to stay away of politics in a subject like the Cuban reality it is practicly imposible. Because that is what have changed and dramatically moved the Cuban reality (politics). We see it in the movie when for example the contast of the luxury of the installations intended for tourism and the improvised common houses of the country side of Cuba it’s shown. The director himself has been politically judged more than one time for his work, materials like the short movie Oscuros rinocerontes enjaulados, and the documentary La epoca, El encanto y Fin de siglo, had already getted him in trouble, and believe me in a very political way. Viva Cuba in it’s screen trip thru the Island shows the material disaster of the inner city and the social poverty and precarious situation of those living in the country side. The dialogues between characters living in Cuba with those living outside expose the social criticism of the piece and political opinion of the director that eventhought it’s kind of hidden and hard to find. If you look beyond the beautiful landscapes and colorful views of the rich Caribean environment, shown in the picture, the political opinion of the director will be found.
    The different sides of a story have to be analyzed before drawing a conclusion or coming up with an opinion on any matter. But in particular one that have been manipulated and twisted so much by a higher power like the dictatorial government of a country. Perhaps Vanessa Arrington trying to stay herself away from politics in her review, was not aware that in any material that touches the social context of a nation overwelmed by politics there is going to be a political angle to the plot.
    That is why in Cuba the process by which groups of people make decisions (Wikipedia politics definition) is conditioned in many different ways. I see that there is operant conditioning, in the method the “higher power” or dictatorial regime has imposed thru rewards and punishments the idea that with the stablished government everything, against the stablished governmet nothing, as Fidel Castro would say once dentro de la Revolucion todo, fuera de la Revolucion nada. Prove of this are the many political prisoners locked up in Cuban jails, just for the mere act of expressing publicly their disagreement with the system, or on the other hand the aristocrats, ministers, or “big time” funtionaries loyal servants of the Revolution (as Castro would call it, even more than forty years after 1959),  that just for their loyalty and services are granted a life full of material and social benefits, literally imposible to reach by the “everyday Cuban citizen” or working class. All of this in a country that claims to have no social differences and no social classes. We could even say that Cubans are “classically conditioned” with this aspect (politics). Because our behavior towards the topic gets automatically triggered every time we discuss a social issue within the Island. Being this way, the unconditioned stimulus to talk about politics, to get as an unconditioned response to think about politics. But we have paired the first one with discussing social issues or merely criticizing the way things work in the country, being this the conditioned stimulus, to then express the conditioned response, to think again about politics. But deep in our heart in or out of the Island we all want the extinction of this conditioning so that the stress of politics can finally stop harassing us.

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