Seduced from an early age by the magic of the seventh art, he worked as assistant director of documentaries and feature films, led by renowned Cuban film figures like Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Titón) and Julio García Espinosa. He was a member of the team that produced the Latin American ICAIC Newsreel directed by Santiago Álvarez, and a founder of the Committee of Latin American Filmmakers and of the Foundation of the New Latin American Cinema (FNCL).
In 1961, he directed his first documentary, Cinco Picos. In 1973, he makes his debut as feature film director with the popular movie El hombre de Maisinicú, based on the figure of Alberto Delgado, an infiltrator in the counterrevolutionary groups operating in the Escambray Mountains, in the center of the country.
The film Páginas del diario de Mauricio stands out among his most recent titles (2006), which achieved significant acknowledgement of both critics and public. The two movies, according to the director, are the most important of his career.
Parallel to his movies, Pérez has devoted much of his time in the fifty-year old institution to the exercise of consultancy of dissimilar film projects belonging to other filmmakers. Similarly, he has represented Cuban cinema and culture at conferences and festivals internationally.
Days before the official handing over of the prize, "Manolo" as he's usually called by colleagues and friends, agreed to talk with Cubanow, a meeting full of passionate anecdotes attesting to the remarkable life of a man for whom cinema is part of the island's spirituality.
What does it mean for Manolo Pérez to be the winner of the 2013 National Film Prize?
I knew I was in the queue, but a queue that has no numbers. It was my turn this year. Somehow the prize is a balance of life that is not over for me yet. I think I can still go on a little longer as a filmmaker, with personal works or cooperating with other projects. It is rewarding, but the most important thing is to keep working because I have not reached the end of the road.
You have been known more for your career as a filmmaker at the expense of other responsibilities and projects you have carried out at the institution. What other responsibilities related to cinema have characterized your performance at the ICAIC or outside the ICAIC?
Throughout all these years and so far, I have done my personal and my consultancy work in documentary and fiction film at the same time.
Consultancy is an easier task for me as compared to teaching. I feel more capable or I contribute more when I'm closing a draft script or watching a rough cut of a film to suggest if editing can be changed, for example, than if I had to theorize. Even tough I've also taught, I feel much better when I exercise supporting concrete projects.
I feel that consultancy, in addition to what you contribute, is a form of learning, a very rich game because you receive. They are directors, producers that come with different ideas, who sometimes have to do with me but sometimes not, and you have to try to get into their skin and help them, respecting the authenticity of what they want to do with their films.
At the ICAIC, Julio García Espinosa was the advisor par excellence. I don't think anyone has exercised consultancy work more brightly than Julio. The advised my generation, the one that was formed here in the 1960s. He advised people that were very different and worked either with Titón, which is our flagship as a filmmaker, or with Humberto Solás, Santiago Álvarez, or those we were learning from behind them. July for me is a model of skill, of tact.
Consultancy requires certain slyness, of how to be in tune with directors from different creative worlds and personalities. I think that, mostly with Julio, I learned what afterwards, in my own way, I used as a consultant. In the co-production stage, he was one of the persons who read the most the projects of co-productions or services to foreigners who wanted to film in Cuba, whose scripts had to be approved by the ICAIC.
I'm also part of the board of directors of the Foundation of the New Latin American Cinema. In 1974, I was the Cuban representative of the committee of Latin American filmmakers created in Caracas and that linked me a lot with Latin American cinema and filmmakers. I'm also part of the board of directors of the Foundation of New Cinema. This link is not of artistic creativity; it is more related to political relations between Cuban and Latin American cinemas, another aspect to which I have devoted significant time.
How do you define Manolo, the filmmaker?
I am a filmmaker of low productivity, that is, it takes me a lot of time to make up my mind and undertake a project. That is not a virtue or a defect, but the way I am, the way I create. I think it's Eliseo Diego the author of the phrase "you are what can't be helped."
I take my time, although I have to make plans with life in mind, I am working on several film projects because I have to bear in mind that there is an end of the road, which is not the Cinema Prize, but death.
Moreover, as reality becomes more complex, everything is more difficult for me. Deep down it should be dark vanity; you always want to do something that is transcendent, that is important, then it is very difficult for me at least, to try to make a film in which you could capture, in a way, the essence of human conflicts, of moments as difficult and complex in the world in the spiritual realm of consciousness, like the ones Cuba is living at the moment.
Read the rest of this interview at http://www.cubanow.net/articles/manuel-pérez-paredes-“making-movies-love-cinema”