Humberto Solás Borrego was born to a poor family in Havana Vieja (the capital’s Old Town) on 4 December, 1941. While still at school, aged 14, he joined the urban guerrillas of the 26 of July Movement against the dictator Fulgencio Batista, supporting the band of rebels, including Castro and Ernesto Ché Guevara.
After the revolution was successful in January 1959, the first cultural body set up was the Cuban Institute of Cinematography Arts and Industry (ICAIC), into which Solás was accepted the following year. In 1966, he made the film, Manuela, influenced by the nouvelle vague, or new wave, of French directors and Italian cinema’s neo-realism, and stamped his signature on Cuban film. It was the first of many films in which Solás told his story through the eyes of a woman, because “women reflect society more deeply, the effects of social transformation on a woman’s life are more transparent. Women have suffered more from society’s contradictions and are thus more sensitive to them and more hungry for change.”
Two years later, aged 26, Solás wrote and directed Lucia, a masterpiece some critics believe he never matched in his later work. It tells three different stories, in varying cinematic styles, about three women called Lucia during three distinct epochs of Cuban history: the war of independence against Spain in the late 19th century, the 1930s revolution against the dictator Gerardo Machado, and the new confidence of women, confronting machismo, in Castro’s revolutionary Cuba.
Among Solás’s other best-known works were Simparele (1974), a stylish film of song and dance about the struggles against slavery and dictatorships in Cuba’s Caribbean neighbour, Haiti; Cantata de Chile (1975), a tribute to the victims of Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup in that country; Cecilia (1981), based on Cirilo Villaverde’s classic 19th century novel Cecilia Valdes; Un Hombre de Exito [A Successful Man], 1986); and El Siglo de las Luces (1991, from the novel about the French revolution by the Cuban Alejo Carpentier; Miel para Oshun [Honey for Oshun] in 2001, the deeply-moving tale of an exiled Cuban who returns from Florida to look for his long-lost mother.In 2005, Solás made Barrio Cuba, the story of three Havana families’ efforts to survive the island’s economic grief, retain their spiritual faith, overcome homophobia and still find time for love and laughter.
In 2003, he founded Gibara’s Poor Cinema Festival, “open to filmmakers with limited funds”, now known as Gibara Film festival, now presided by top Cuban actor Jorge Perrugorria, which takes place in July http://ficgibara.com/en/ .
Solás was awarded Cuba’s National Film Prize in 2005.
Humberto Solás died of cancer on September 18, 2008, at the age of 66.