Interview with young Cuban filmmaker on her short film ABECÉ

With this comprehensive exercise in the specialty of documentary included in the second year curricula at the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV), Montero broached several specialties like direction, direction of photography, production, script and edition.

"Leoneidi's story extended my understanding. She was a 12-year old girl living with a man of 31. She had given birth three months before and therefore had to alternate between the roles of mother, wife and sister", the filmmaker said.

But Leoneidi's case is not an isolated one. There lies one of the most polemic aspects of this documentary, which contains a symbolic, non-explicit violence that is nevertheless present, according to young filmmaker Ernesto Pérez Zambrano.

"You wanted responsibility and now you have it", says Maykel, Leoneidi's husband in ABECÉ. This is a tough moment of the audiovisual that goes beyond the issue of adolescent pregnancy to underline how domestic violence is still a theme that demands much more visibility in the media because the group imagery continues to regard it as something "natural".

Cubanow talked to Diana Montero, Bachelor in Art History from the University of Havana and currently in the third year of the specialty in documentary.

Tell us about your research process for the documentary.

We have 40 days to carry out the entire exercise, which includes research, pre-production and shooting. We only had 15 days for the research.

When I arrived in the Sierra Maestra I was initially interested in broaching some themes related with adolescence. That's why I began to visit high schools and primary schools to interact with children and adolescents.

The first girl I met was facing a situation that was very similar to that of my character in ABECÈ. She was 14 and lived with a man of 37. That was the first specific case I learned of. In the end she couldn't play the leading role in my film because the husband blocked the relationship I had established with her. He controlled her very much and suddenly the girl changed her attitude toward me.

I continued my research in health institutions. I interviewed the president of the mother-infant program in the municipality and he gave me statistics of the percentage of adolescent pregnancy in the zone (24.1 %).

In parallel to that scientific investigation I kept inquiring in the neighborhood and thus met Leoneidi. The case was still a very recent one. In such small towns everyone knows each other. Someone commented to me about her in a very informal way. They gave me the address and I went to her home. The family gave me a very good reception and from that moment on I only had one week to complete the research and then start the pre-production week.

I began to establish a relationship to her, to talk to the family in order to find out in more detail what her life was like. Then I realized that this was not the same target I had in the first case, but rather a problem of premature motherhood and violation of the childhood stages.

I had to decide what I was going to tell about: her situation with regard to the husband, how the family faces the problem. Finally I chose to make a portrait of her.

Didn't your research include as a priority to study why that situation occurs in the Cuban mountains and what reasons make those girls live together as husband and wife with men who are so much older than them?

Yes, I thought about it, but I wasn't interested in broaching that phenomenon in a documentary with such production conditions. Having to shoot a 15-minute short film in only six days determines to a great extent what you bring out in the film.

I didn't have enough time to shoot a film that would delve deeper into the theme in a global manner. That's why I chose to focus on her. The exercise (One to One) is precisely that. It has very specific, very clear premises: the documentary maker with a character. Those are the rules imposed by the teachers and the School.

Did you have any notion of the Feminist Film Theory when you broached this story?

In fact I do not have any. I arrived at the group of problems posed by the documentary after a research process in the zone. The esthetic approach in the film is the result of the way I felt the story should be told, and it is not based on any other premise.

I think the Feminist Film Theory is a cinema that tells about minorities. The only thing that interested me was to broach this group of problems that today exists in that region of the Sierra Maestra.

Have you had the possibility to participate in any kind of workshop where they provide you with tools on the theme of gender?

I've seen films with a gender approach, but I haven't had that theoretical education as part of my studies at the EICTV. I would like to learn about studies on the Feminist Film Theory containing deeper analyses on authors and their films in general, like a sort of cultural background.

Some theorists think that the gender approach you use in your documentary in a certain way may get to re-victimize the girl. What is your opinion in this regard?

I don't think that is the case, because the only thing I do in the documentary is present Leoneidi's situation. My intention, all the time, was to understand her inner world, the universe of a girl with responsibilities that exceed her. The way in which I film her – slowly, exploring her face, her body, the way in which she is learning to be a mother, the way in which I ask her the questions, how I wait for her replies. In that sense I don't feel that she is being re-victimized.

In one of the sessions entitled Moviendo Ideas that are part of the Young Showcase you commented that ABECÉ had inspired you to make a feature as follow-up on the theme. What could you tell us in advance about this?

I decided to extend the film to a feature I want to make a documentary with different esthetic premises: it should be more an observation and drive away as much as possible from the interview. For the time being the title is Nido (Nest).

The project is in the stage of development. I would also be with Leoneidi and attempt to explore her growth process until the age of 15 as well as the baby's growth; explore some more in the relationship to the husband and the family.

The idea is to follow her development until that age because in Cuba the 15 years' celebration symbolizes the transit from girl to woman. Since Leoneidi faces a very particular life situation, let us say that said process has already been violated. That is why we set that date as limit to end the shooting of the story.

original interview here