Maluala, which played at the BFI Southbank in March as part of its African Odysseys strand, is a revelatory experience in more ways than one. Thematically, it sheds light upon a little-known aspect of the story of the enslavement and forced transportation of Africans to the Americas, but also offers us a window into the work of director Sergio Giral, one of the most important figures of Cuban national cinema.
Born in Havana in 1937, Giral began his professional life as a painter in New York City. Barely surviving in the US, he returned in 1959 at the age of 22 to witness the Cuban revolution (the Castro-led overthrow of Batista's government), before becoming involved – at the behest of legendary cinematographer Nestor Almendros – in the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). The ICAIC – established in March 1959 – was one of the first cultural initiatives carried out by the revolutionary government, and it was here that Giral developed his interest in Cuba's complex colonial history within the context of filmmaking.
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