Cuban cinema institute debates its future and reorganisation

As explained by the organizers of the meeting, the consultation and participation of filmmakers, specialists and workers – who head events, development programs and several administrative sections at ICAIC – has always been regarded as an essential part of the study and implementation of the different actions to come into force in the upcoming months.

This exchange, which is a continuation of several meetings held throughout the most recent months, will extend to other departments of the Institute, and it allowed the workers of the Animation Studios to become acquainted with the theme of the essential structural and functional changes to be made at ICAIC in order to adapt it to the new economic and social realities that the country is undergoing. As part of the foreseen work schedule, the process of permanent consultation will extend, in an initial phase, up to next September, when the Work Group created with that purpose must submit its proposal to the Government's direction levels.

The debate was presided over, in addition to ICAIC's main leaders, by filmmakers Manuel Pérez Paredes, National Prize of Cinema 2013, and Jorge Luis Sánchez, who are members of the Work Group in charge of making the proposal and coordinating the process of consultation and participation of the creators and remaining workers linked to the cinematographic activity in Cuba.

A Road to Be Followed in Pursuit of the National Cinema

As part of the transformations carried out by the State and Government since the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), a work group was created in charge of diagnosing and proposing solutions to the pressing problems being undergone by the national cinematographic sphere, including the experiences in the non-state sector.

The Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Economic and Social Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution agreed to prioritize the Institute as the first of the big art institutions to be submitted to the process of diagnosis and reorganization of its work. The central target is to adapt it to the new context in which the country is developing.

About the characteristics of the process, ICAIC's president, writer Omar González, explained that it must necessarily be carried out in a responsible way, with boldness and freedom in the formulation of the proposals and with a wide participation of those who have made and make Cuban cinema, without exclusion of any section or specialty.

At present the work focuses on the phase of diagnosis, which should later be corresponded by solution proposals. At the same time, a detailed study has been included of the legal norms that should be modified or approved in order to implement the transformations themselves. According to the information obtained, the diagnosis takes into consideration all the demands noted down in previous debates and studies, as in the congresses of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the Hermanos Saíz Association, and the National Union of Cultural Workers, actions foreseen in the bases ruling the Work Group's activity.

ICAIC's president pointed out that "the Commission, through its indications, establishes the guidelines of how the process is to be carried out. This dimension – necessarily a methodological one – makes it possible to work coordinately and in organized form with other State and government levels". He likewise underlined the seriousness of the work being achieved, "which involves dozens of comrades from the Institute and other institutions, allowing us to assure that it is the first time this happens with a proposal related to the cinema, and ensures that the agreements will not become a dead text, as has happened other times. We shouldn't have any doubt that there is political will to carry out this process and whatever results from it. It's something that will be fulfilled; it is not the fruit of an occasional speculation nor of a divided vision of reality; it's a mandate, an instruction given by the Revolution's leadership. And we will fulfill it with total rigor, since it is a privileged opportunity to find formulas that may contribute decisively to solve in comprehensive manner the problems of the Cuban cinema and, as an extension of them, the problems of audiovisuals concerning it. The outlook of these approaches will always be cultural, never of profitability".

In September 2013 ICAIC must submit to the above-mentioned commission a diagnosis of the present situation, a group of possible solutions to be implemented and a study of the economic feasibility of those proposals; once approved by the competent levels and authorities, a schedule for their implementation will derive from said proposals.

As specified by ICAIC's chief directive, "in parallel to this study, the material and human resources available to us began to be rationalized already a long time ago, conceiving the possibility of engaging the creative personnel for each work, for each project, as a much more viable form instead of the old custom of putting everyone in the payroll; which means that there will be ever less permanent posts and less full-time workers, only the essential ones. We should arrive at less than one thousand permanent workers in 2013, in search of efficiency by way of the work, ensuring the quality of the artistic and technological processes. What is difficult in an institution like ours that has both art and cultural industry, is to separate those who are directly related to the artistic creation from those who, supporting it, also participate of it".

It was also informed that these themes are permanently analyzed with representatives from the ministries of Culture – whose minister, Rafael Bernal, heads the temporary work group -; Finances and Prices; Economy and Planning, and Work and Social Security. "We think we will not have to wait until 2014 to start eliminating some of the problems and difficulties that today damage our development, as would be the case of the Decree Law of the Audiovisual Creator and other measures of lesser scope", said the president of ICAIC.

Possible Solutions to Accumulated Problems

Susana Molina, vice president of the Institute, who was appointed to explain the main problems that could be included in the diagnosis, revealed that this work has been conceived as an X-ray picture of the present ICAIC, taking as base or reference some data illustrating the institutional performance of the last five years.

In this regard she clarified that 55% of the subvention received from the State is employed in paying salaries, including those derived from the artistic engagement. During the last five years the cultural institution has been involved in 542 productions; of them, 107 features, figure that includes co-productions. On the other hand, 3,016 minutes of animation have been produced. In this regard the vice president highlighted that the main part of the income originates in the services rendered to foreign productions and the sale of rights or royalties.

She likewise commented that the majority of Latin American countries have a cinema law, a film commission and a fund for the development of the film production, as mainstays of the national audiovisual. "In those countries, like here, the money invested in a movie is not recovered in the box office". "On the other hand – she contrasted – very few countries have a national film archive or a film library, something we do have since the foundational years of ICAIC.

Molina insisted on the difficulty entailed by the work currently being carried out, since "it is full of moments of forward and backward movements, because the identification of a group of problems implies the study of all aspects surrounding them, and in the face of each new problem it is necessary to reconsider the steps forward given up to that moment to prevent the escape of any detail".

During the last decade, ICAIC has conducted the institutional activity toward the diversification of genres, themes and aesthetics of the national cinema, the accomplishment of investments in the area of cinematographic patrimony, whose existence was in danger; post-filming and growing recognition and participation of young filmmakers and technicians in institutional activities; the participation of young persons in the production of films has been propitiated, and support has been granted to independent productions – although this activity still lacks a legal norm regulating it -, among other actions.

The problems identified up to the present range from legal and organizational issues to all kinds of hindrances that obstruct the work of both creators and those who support the art creation with different associated specialties. This whole bundle of elements influences in different ways each phase in the development of a film: production, post-production, distribution, projection and promotion.

Another element to take into consideration is the migration process toward digital technology in all fields of the seventh art, since in short most of the world will use it from the filming stage to the exhibition; this being a highly complex issue due to the financial expenses that the modernization of the halls will represent in order to assume full digital projection.

In this regard, a theme that came up again is that the Cuban cinemas have old equipment, little comfort and buildings in bad condition. Several participants, mainly animation artists and producers, explained how their films, many times conceived and completed with high levels of quality of image and sound, are forced to reduce these values in order to adapt to the possibilities of the cinemas.

Notwithstanding, it is impossible and inconceivable in the present Cuban context to insert ourselves into a technological race designed to exclude the periphery of the cinematographic industry, but this implies the need of at least reaching and maintaining an average technological updating.

Collective Intelligence: An Unavoidable Element

During the meeting the president of ICAIC explained how it is that "we are going to keep on celebrating these meetings with all those who participate in making Cuban cinema; first, for the diagnosis; then for the elaboration of the proposals of solutions and policies, and lastly, to submit the final idea to the group analysis by all of us. We have foreseen the celebration of a process of assemblies so that everyone who wishes to may participate: constructively, without hasty disqualifications. We are in a phase of proposals, and we will only present the document after submitting it to wide consultation". The next assemblies will take place at Cubanacán Studios, ICAIC's central offices and other technical and artistic areas.

The attendants to the meeting made ample contributions to the discussion, and new ideas and questionings emerged from their expositions. Several experiences were shared that could contribute to earn financial resources for ICAIC.

One of the conclusions arrived at by those present is that the accomplishment of many of these potential ideas is almost impossible due to the way in which the country's economic reality is structured, the bureaucratic hindrances, even in the own institution and in the Ministry of Culture, all of which restricts productive capacities.

Animation director Alexander Rodríguez assured that "the problem is not ICAIC itself, but something much more complex: the economic model that still prevails in the country. Only after modifying the juridical norms that do not allow the full exploitation of the possibilities at hand will it be high time to analyze how to improve ICAIC and start valuating our internal problems".

The experienced producer Aramís Acosta admitted that there were things during the meeting "that made him feel very well; particularly the presence in the work group of two filmmakers like Jorge Luis Sánchez and Manolo Pérez, since we all know what their ideas represent. This enables us to see things from the artistic point of view, which will enrich the final document. I know how difficult it is to have the responsibility of leading a process to change and improve things".

"The other thing that tranquilizes me is that the work group has pronounced itself favorably to the granting of the status of "budget unit with special treatment" to the Animation Studios. This is the most correct position. I feared that the Studios would enter into this kind of new "entrepreneurial" trend, because that would mean depriving animation of the meaning it has had for our country during so many years. I feared that what had been achieved up to now would disappear under the influence of a national enthusiasm to radically change things, that the historical responsibility and coherence would be omitted".

Lastly, he warned: "Let us not forget that we have many ways to earn hard currency without absolutely having to become an enterprise; particularly through the rendering of services. Always without ceasing to produce – and here I want to be as conservative as possible – the different lines we have historically made, the children's workshops, the themes we tackled".

Some Arrival and Departure Points

As part of the meeting, the proposal was made to include Alexander Rodríguez and Ernesto Piña -two young animation filmmakers- plus producer Aramís Acosta to the work group coordinating the transformation process in ICAIC.

There was consensus to this election and to the idea that there is a will, both in the country and in ICAIC, to solve all the above-mentioned inconveniences, and it was likewise regarded as advantageous that the solutions emerge from inside the institution, taking into consideration that it is there that the nature and specificities of the development of the Cuban cinema are best known. All of it without failing to take into consideration the fact that the country's real situation is a complex one and that it is necessary to analyze well all the ways to make those changes be positive. Based on the above, new concerns resulting from the exchanges were added to the diagnosis.

It was also insisted on the need to employ the know-how and human resources accumulated by ICAIC for decades in projects that may earn resources and raise the institution's and all the country's filmmakers' productive capacity. "We cannot let this potential we now have start losing its worth; we have to start making intensive use of it right away", said Omar González.

Regarding the different interventions, Jorge Luis Sánchez expressed his opinions:

"As we know, the Animation Studios have a very particular specificity and nature. I was attracted by the way in which you feel that some problems go beyond ICAIC – perhaps in other related areas, in another type of creation this appears with more nuances – but since I appreciated how you master the problems you have here, I am sure you can distinguish correctly between internal problems and those at national level".

"Sometimes it is complicated to be part of these commissions, because – paraphrasing Martí – it is probable that we may only pick up the ingratitude of men. On the other hand, I fell that I belong to ICAIC, I feel part of the Cuban cinema, of culture and of this country. We have no alternative but to get ourselves involved with these problems, sometimes arid ones; it is necessary to investigate, to participate, in order that we may achieve a group of ideas as complete as possible on what to do with ICAIC ; no good proposal should be left out. Everyone must feel part of this, because making a diagnosis is not the hardest part, but arriving at the joint conclusion of which is the ICAIC we want, in order to reconstruct it according to the present and the near future".

Almost at the end, the director of Irremediablemente juntos (2012) and El Benny (2006) clarified issues related to the decree law that will grant legal personality to the independent audiovisual creator, and requested that it be examined by the animators before approval, because it would thus gain in pertinence and quality, all of which is necessary to foresee before this norm comes into effect. He also convoked all those interested to commit themselves with the process and contribute their ideas systematically.

Lastly, Manolo Pérez, director of El hombre de Maisinicú (1973) and Páginas del diario de Mauricio (2006), concluded: "Although the geography of the Animation Studios and the physiognomy of the faces I observe from up here have changed – I see that youth reigns in this place, as a result of this digital revolution we are experiencing – in the midst of the tiredness and of the high number of problems exposed that would overwhelm anyone – I am surprised by the hope I see in you, and I believe we have to keep on struggling and believing, in spite of the blows life gives us. It is important to continue defending the specificity of the cinematographic creation. The sense of belonging that has always existed in the filmmakers toward ICAIC still exists, and I see it in you".

(10 / 05 /2013)

Full article at