A man of good faith, nice, restless, interested in doing films moving the audience's emotions and leaving them with food for thought, Fernando, 66, is still looking for elements which surprise him and take him down different roads.
More than once he has asked himself why he makes films and says he finds the answer almost daily: the joy of being able to express and discover things by himself moves him to create. He reminds me he shares David Lynch's idea on films being able to express what is invisible.
In the second moment of our interview, he approached more personal topics. For Fernando, not all emotions a story gives rise to can be said in words, but films can express emotions that are not even classified.
Since when do films attract you?
Since I was a child films were for me a passion as a spectator. If a film catches me, I believe in it and let myself go with it as any other person. Later I begin noticing the editing and other aspects, but if its story and aesthetics move me, I abandon myself to emotion
Why always Cuba in your creations?
Because I am a Cuban and this reality nourishes me. This is what I have lived, what moves me. It is here where I always feel creative. I have filmed abroad. I was once in Chile and made some chapters for a TV series was very happy to do. Once I filmed in Moscow an ICAIC documentary film, but it is here where I find motivation, perhaps because of an identification process nourishing me. These are my obsessions, my world of experiences.
Apart from material shortages, what factors make Cuban contemporary cinema in general not reach the height it used to have?
I have never made that analysis, although I have noticed that from the ‘90s on Cuban cinema has lost its dynamics. This is evident. It lost it because of historical reasons, that is, the economic and social crisis the country underwent. And the negative result of that stage is that the young generation that was about to emerge in that moment – because since the ‘80s it had been promising a large boom for cinema – was sacrificed by history and were lost. Many young people migrated, others stayed here but were unable to do films when it was their moment to do them. On the other hand, we must admit that the film industry survived. That was a miracle. In a different country, with a different social system, the movie industry would have disappeared in the economic conditions Cuba was at those times, in the special period. It survived because of the intelligence of some people in ICAIC who fought to find ways out. The final balance, however, was that Cuban cinema lost its dynamics because production was depressed. Some significant films were made, but it was not a movement, we could say.
How would you define the present moment?
Today, although conditions are not so different – in a certain way, that was the moment we bottomed out – and we are not entirely out of the crisis, there is a new phenomenon that has to do with technology. There is a new generation that does not have to wait for the industry to be able to express itself. There is an independent cinema that is beginning to bear fruit. I am not speaking of a promising future, but of a present reality that will continue to grow and I believe this is what is giving back its dynamics to Cuban cinema. There are imperfect works, there is unevenness and there are pieces that always surprise. That is where I feel this turbulent river is flowing to the new vitality of the Cuban cinema we all long for.
Are you talking of a new generation of filmmakers?
Young people must begin to express themselves too. This is like a relay race. It is true that at times, because of the precarious conditions in which they have to work, they do not achieve good quality in their films, but there are some which do and artistically are way over what a film made by the industry can be. Without generalizing, that is the place where true dynamics can be found. I would like to take part in them, to try. I would be very much interested in making an independent film. I have various projects in my head and I think I will do one of them without the industry. Just to see what happens. I find this new reality of Cuban cinema dynamic. I do not see that cinema is now in serious trouble. It does have problems, as any other. And it is not that it is easier for young people to film, but now it is not as difficult as it used to be.
What arts have inspired you as a filmmaker?
Music, literature, painting. I'm not the type that goes to museums, but visual arts attract me very much. There are paintings that at times I see and see them over and over because they actually tell me something. At times we even use them as visual referents to recreate atmospheres in films. Also, many books I have read create images in me or move me to make film parallels. And music. It is not that I know much about music, but at times, when listening to something while I write, it makes me catch a given rhythm for an atmosphere in a dramatic situation. This happened to me with Life is Whistling, for example, since the idea came to me while listening to Philip Glass. I was in Chile, working in a series for the Chilean TV and already wanted to be back in Cuba. I was somewhat sad and played that percussion music that goes in crescendo. When listening to it, some images of people trying to get to a place they never got to and the anguish they felt came to me. This was the final image in Life is Whistling, where the characters want to reach a point and either they don't reach it or they are late for it. It was like a metaphor of the search for happiness. The point of departure was that Philip Glass music that we later recreated with Edesio Alejandro. I did not use the one by Glass, but I would have liked to use it.
What has been your most important award?
The people in the street. Cuban audiences are really very special. I like awards, of course, but I do not make films to be awarded, that is, I do not make them thinking in an award. Look, Memories of Underdevelopment, an extraordinary film, never got an Oscar. Why? Because of a series of circumstances of its times, but it is a film that deserves every award in the world. It is acknowledged today, but it could have been acknowledged in its moment. This makes you see that an award more and less is not determining. What I find most valuable is the relationship with the audience.
What characteristics must a performer have to work with you?
As time has gone by, I would say that one of the things I enjoy the most is working with the performers. First, I do not consider myself a director of actors but I like to work with them because a great part of the emotions depends on their work and time has taught me that you do not direct emotions. Trying to do it is a wrong path. You have to try to share that emotion with the performer. Time has also taught me that there are two large groups of performers: those who can make use of a technique and those who, instead of a technique, have a certain intuition which is emotional identification. They are both good, interesting. You have to master this to find how to sort things with performers. I always say that actors and actresses are the owners of their work. What I try to do is inspire them, light the spark of the creative and emotional propeller. Then, when I say "action," they direct themselves. They either achieve what they intend or they don't, but when you see they do, you share very strong feelings and emotions. In Cuba there is an extraordinary pool of young performers who give themselves open-handedly, just for the simple fact of being able to act. I am very grateful to young performers for what they have contributed to my films.
You usually involve Raul Perez Ureta in your films as photographer, Edesio Alejandro as music composer and Erick Grass in artistic direction.
I am intuitive and many times I have felt things happen because life gives them to me, not because I had planned them. And Raul, Erick and Edesio are part of this creative energy. Many things have happened because that was the way it should be and not because we had planned them. These are presents life gives you. For example, in Suite Havana we took the street and, suddenly, we found some things there and we just shot them. The same thing has happened in other films. There is a film whose title in English is Someone to watch over me. At times I feel someone is watching you when you are making a film and helps you in your findings.
Which is your ideal place?
My house, wherever it may be. Since 1999 I live in a building in Infanta Street. I have a very small apartment there but it has a view of the entire city of Havana. It came to my mind when I heard your question. Suddenly it came to me, a flash, and I saw myself in the window looking at Havana.
Where you born in the capital city?
Yes, in Guanabacoa. There is an Argentinean film by Adolfo Aristain entitled A Place in the World, which I liked very much. I told myself: my place in the world is Havana. Because of many reasons, spiritual, daily reasons. I like to travel. It is very nice, because you discover new realities, but I always feel the need to be back. And when I arrive and walk around here, I feel: this is mine. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that when you travel the body comes first and three or four days later the soul, the spirit, arrives. This is true. When you go abroad, it rests behind and three days later it is back and you feel better. But when I come back to Havana, I come in body and soul. I do not have to wait for anything because it is here: my soul is here.
What projects will Fernando Perez approach in the future?
I am working on three ideas. One is another historical film. The project is quite advanced and I am interested in the story. It approaches a real event in the early 19th century which I consider the most shocking in Cuban history. Enrique Faver, who seemed to be a Swiss doctor, established his practice in Baracoa and got married, lived there part of his life and it was suddenly found out that Enrique was Enriqueta, a woman who had to pose as a man to be able to have a medical practice. It is not the project I would like to do right now, because I have just made a historical film and I would like to work in a more contemporary one as the two projects I have are. One is Nocturno (Nocturn) which would use the popular radio program as a backdrop; the other is a script that is rather advanced but needs further development. Abelito, a boy who works in a bank and loves to write scripts, suggested it. He had handed me several scripts and I blieve it is a rather complicated story I would like to tell. I have a really nice title for it: Chupa pirulí (Suck the Lollypop). You will later know why. It is a title that seems to belong to a comedy, but it is a rather dramatic story. It takes place in the Los Sitios neighborhood and develops in just two or three locations. It can be shot with a hand-held camera. I hope I can finish that project and do it as soon as possible.
Do you think about time sometime?
I would like to live three thousand years, just out of curiosity. To imagine a world in three thousand years and not this one, mmm… But perhaps we are present, in a different way, I don't know. At least I trust we will. If I go, I would like to be back.