Cinema of the poor is possible

December 10, 2008 | Print Print |
Mavis Dora Alvarez

Mavis Dora Alvarez

The word “poor” does not always refer to a lack of materials. Modest works, created with few resources, can be very rich.

That’s my conclusion after attending the Humberto Solas Low-Budget Thematic Film Festival held the third week of November in Cienfuegos, a beautiful city in south-central Cuba.

I attended as a specialist on gender issues and participated in discussions about issues as sensitive as they are urgent to address. Panelists and the general public worked together against the silence, because to close one’s eyes and ears to reality does not resolve problems, it intensifies them. Psychologists and social communicators know this well.

When I was a student, I remember reading or hearing that half of resolving a problem is identifying it. I have never forgotten that.

Humberto Solas

Humberto Solas

Everything projected onto the screen plainly depicted the problems that pervert and threaten today’s global society. This genre of films, made with very few economic and technological resources, was dubbed Cine pobre by the late filmmaker Humberto Solas who founded the Low-Budget Film Festival of Gibara back in 2001. Solas may be little known in the English-speaking world, but his works are well known throughout Latin America and Spain for their high ethical and esthetic value.

With simple transparency and a heart-rending style, low-budget films by Cubans and directors from other countries are capable of presenting the complexity of the problems confronting individuals and social groups in their attempt to exercise their rights and live in equality and justice. It is sad-cinema because what it reveals is sad. It is of the poor, because those who have money are not interested in telling the story of how victims of inequality, arrogance, abuse and violence ferociously struggle, rebel and resist.

These filmmakers know that their work will not make it to the screens of the large commercial circuits. They barely made it to a small venue for the viewing of people interested in changing the world, absurdly unjust, where the most vulnerable are the women, children, the poor, and the sickly.

Yes, this is necessary cinema, because it denounces the disrespect for sexual and cultural diversity; because it recognizes the pain of those who uproot themselves in search of better possibilities for survival, and it shows the powerlessness of those who suffer because they are humble and dispossessed of their rights as humans and citizens.

Humberto Solas Low-Budget Thematic Film Festival

I am left with images of a mistreated Spanish woman in the short fiction film La maltrada historia de Maria who one fine day dared to make a stand, say to hell with everything and run off, tired of being ignored and abused by her family, husband and children. Likewise, the difficult struggle of those who opt to be open about their sexual orientation and demand respect for their right to make a living like anyone else in the Cuban short film Ella Trabaja (She works). Another was about people in Cuba living with HIV and defending their rights in Viviendo al limite (Living at the edge).

The festival exposed some 21st century behavior that is hard to comprehend. Therefore, I believe it is more logical to make low-budget films, which are paradoxically rich, because they are not beholden to economic power, hierarchies and the elite. These filmmakers take risks to expose what is least seen, what least makes it to the controlled or censored cinema or TV screens, addressing taboo issues that are marginalized or silenced, but which exist despite the silence..

I am going to continue talking about this festival…and of low-budget films…and of Humberto Solás, who is no longer among us. I believe that he felt more complete and happy about this project than any of his others. His dream, so characteristic of him, so Cuban, so human, was to create a film genre that is freer because less money is involved and more valuable because it is freer.

  • Mary

    Mavis Dora, I read this journal in part to see if you have written a column. I love your writing style. In Canada I work in one of the helping professions and I appauld your most recent posting.

  • grok

    While the Internet is not exactly a poor person’s first tool, it is certainly generally cheaper to use to get films, than living a lifestyle where one can enjoy first-run Hollywood blockbusters at the local cineplex, etc. Hopefully these and other films from the ‘margins’ can make an end-run around the present commercial and political censorship, by being made available over the Internet — free, for the downloading. And maybe if bandwidth to/from Cuba is an issue, these cinematic masterpieces could be made available from servers in other, friendly countries.

    Sound like a good idea? I think of all the good cinema I have never seen, simply because it cannot find an appropriate distribution channel…