Reaching people through humour: Cuban actor turned director Jorge Perugorria on making films

Amor Crónico (2011), a docu-drama that follows Cuban-American singer Cucú Diamantes on her tour of Cuba, and Se Vende (2012), his first feature film, are examples of the new commitments the actor is undertaking with art and the public.

Using the opportunity of the presentation of Se Vende to approach Perugorría, Cubanow talked with him about his most recent award, the Gloria Award, granted by the Chicago Latino Film Festival; the première of the film throughout Cuba; and his next project: the movie version of a story by Miguel Barnet.

Awards are a validation, an acknowledgement of a job well done. What does this award mean to you in particular?

The Gloria Award is granted for work in general, my career achievement, not only for my work as an actor, but for everything I do and the commitment with which I do it. I think it's an award granted to well-known personalities, and really you feel you are getting old when they give you this kind of acknowledgement. That obliges you to do things better, with more love.

During your acceptance speech, you shared the award with those with whom you have made movies and especially with Juan Carlos Tabío and Tomás "Titón" Gutiérrez Alea. Se Vende is a tribute to these great directors of Cuban and worldwide film. Did you always plan it like that?

I was lucky to work in Titón's last two films: Strawberry and Chocolate and Guantanamera, in which Tabío participated as co-director. From then on, I have worked a lot with the latter. There we have the examples of Lista de Espera and El Cuerno de la Abundancia, and also other projects, short films and visual art exhibitions.

Tabío is my teacher. We have a very close relationship; a relationship of complicity. I am fanatic about his work; of both of them. In a way I am the heir of all that and I think that's the reason they are so present. Little by little I'm going to find my own way, but for now I can't deny recognizing their influence on me.

What do you think about humor as an instrument to reflect reality? Is it still valid? Isn't it a bit superficial?

Let us return to Titón and Tabío. They have made wonderful cinema, but they have also made entertaining cinema. Tabío's films Plaff, Se Permuta and El elefante y la bicicleta are entertaining films. It's not just about the concept of cinéma d'auteur[1] that he has, which is a bit elitist, but he has to reach the larger public.

I like humor as a resource, as a way to establish communication. This tradition comes from Chaplin's time, a resource for making film attractive.

There's cinéma d'auteur, which in my view is cinema for festivals, because communication with the spectator is more difficult, with codes that are more closed than they are valid, because I believe in the possibility of everyone expressing themselves, but I do not underestimate the humor. On the contrary, I think you can say many intelligent things through humor. You can reach more people. Those are the keys Titón and Tabío knew how to use with the skill of masters.

Our commitment is to the spectator, so we have to speak to them of reality. I don't make films for myself or just to carry them under my arm so that people can see how smart I am. I try to work when there's something interesting to tell, and I tell it the way I want. I have this commitment that is the result of the training I have had in Cuban filmmaking and up to the Nueva Trova.

That's what the spectator expects from us, that we make entertaining and funny stories, but also intelligent stories.

You have said that Cubans like your films very much, and that Se Vende has been awarded the Popularity Prize at the 24th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema of Havana is proof of this. Now that the film begins to be exhibited throughout the country, what would you like people to see in it?

Cubans like films made in their country. Perhaps this is because they feel identified and reflected in them. That's what I would like them to see.

Besides, I would like them to go to the movie theaters to see Se Vende in all its splendor. There are some pirated copies of the film that do not do it justice. It's a shame that so much effort of so many people is lost because of that.

In relation to your next projects, we know you are getting ready to start shooting another feature film.

My next film will be a movie version of Miguel Barnet's story Fátima o el Parque de la Fraternidad, awarded the Juan Rulfo prize in that category. Once again I approach the gay issue, this time as director – in Strawberry and Chocolate I played the role of Diego, a homosexual – and I will try to show a different point of view. Of late, this topic has been dealt with a lot in Cuban cinema, but you always want to give your view.

We will start pre-production this month. The script is by Fidel Orta and the original text is great. To be honest, I am very happy to have this work in my hands.

Original interview at