The Debt of Cuban Cinema Clubs to Julio García Espinosa

Acknowledged as a brilliant filmmaker, to which he dedicated much of his life, he left as a legacy many works as a documentary maker, screenwriter and director, in an artistic career that began in the 1950s. Excelling in that period is a material of great importance, El Megano, a short he directed in 1955 and that is considered to be the main antecedent of the new Cuban cinema.

As a director, Garcia Espinosa made seven documentaries and six fiction films, among which Aventuras de Juan Quinquin (1961) and La inutil muerte de mi socio Manolo (1989) stand out. He was the scriptwriter of more than 20 films, like Lucía (1968), by Humberto Solas, and La Primera carga al machete, by Manuel Octavio Gomez (1969).

He received dozens of awards at the national and Iberian-American levels, like the National Culture Award (1981), the Alejo Carpentier Medal (1982) and the Felix Varela Order (1984), in addition to the aforementioned award, the highest a filmmaker can be presented with on the island.

Not only was Espinosa a founder of the Cuban film institute (ICAIC) established just after the revolution in 1959, he was also was one of the founders of the previously organized Cinema Section of the Culture Department of the Rebel Army.

In a nutshell, it is not possible to speak of that phenomenon called "Cuban cinema", or cinema of the Revolution, or ICAIC cinema, without mentioning Julio. I would rather think it is not possible to speak of cinema in Cuba -without adjectives- if Julio García Espinosa is not mentioned. Firstly, because practically nobody is ahead of him as filmmaker, screenwriter, theoretician, official, critic and professor. But more important than all that, because Julio was, above any other kind of posts, responsibilities or chairmanships, a complete cinema man.

For all that, now that his physical life is over, there will be all kind of obituaries, texts, analysis and opinions, which will exalt his work and his theoretical and film chores. Therefore, these modest lines will not be plentiful in those aspects; they will rather refer to something that -I'm afraid- is necessary to rescue and stand out: Julio's role in the development of Cuban cinema club movement.

Although with the emergence of ICAIC in 1959 and subsequent years an unexpected and enthusiastic development of the cinema club activity takes place, it is also true that later on cinema clubs began to languish at the national level. By the end of the 1970s, forums of film debates associated to workplaces, schools and others gain force and presence again, now accompanied by an activity very little disseminated before: the amateur cinema production.

It is necessary to remember that those years, that is to say, from 1976 on, the Cuban Institute of Cinematic Arts and Industry has disappeared. Now the film activity draws together in the so-called "Film Field" under the Ministry of Culture, and that at the beginning, is directed by the also late Alfredo Guevara, as vice-minister of Culture.

Thus, the initiative of rescuing what was already shaping as a future "amateur cinema movement" corresponds to Guevara, who after some disagreements, advises to create what would become the movement initial core, the Cinematographic Special Interests´ Group of the Community Arts Center of the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, in Havana city. However, as it is known, in 1982 Alfredo Guevara is replaced as vice-minister of Culture, and Julio García Espinosa, who held the same post, becomes the new person in charge of the film activity in the country.

Mainly from 1983 on, an accelerated growth of cinema clubs takes place and, mostly, a bigger involvement of the Film Field (for everybody, "ICAIC") in that highly participative and community activity, largely responsible for the establishment of a film culture very much diffused in those years.

With Julio's approval, multiple events begin to develop -mainly amateur cinema events- which are held in the whole country. Those events, almost always called "Meetings", are in the root of the current existence of all kind of showcases, festivals, workshops, etc., which in a selfless and determined manner, keep the artistic and cultural concerns linked to the audiovisual alive.

The foundation in 1984 of the still active National Federation of Cinema Clubs of Cuba could be unthinkable without the support of Julio García Espinosa and of that "ICAIC", nonexistent in papers, but acting as such in its administration and activity. Likewise, that support facilitated that also in 1984, the much Eurocentric International Federation of Cinema Clubs, held its General Assembly in Havana, for the first time in Latin America and for the second time outside Europe. Those events, without any doubt, placed Cuba ahead of the Latin American cinema club movement by then.

Especially, the amateur cinema, which always had the support and sympathies of Julio, developed in such a way that there were more than 40 groups in the country. The most important result of that movement -that still subsists- is not the filmmakers and technicians who started in it, but rather the amateur cinema showed and proved in the practice of those distant 1980s that the audiovisual production without any institutional involvement was feasible, desirable and even necessary.

We would say that when a youth today, with a digital camera and an enthusiastic and busy group of friends, undertakes an unfathomable adventure of audiovisual making, it is because he has a "grandfather" who was not afraid of either the ups and downs of the 8 mm cameras, or the lacks and misunderstandings, and took on filming an amateur movie in the 1980s accompanied by a group of friends.

Link to article on Cubarte