The People of the Documentary: a love letter to American people

Filming of ‘The people of the documentary’ pic director Inti Herrera

This August the Gibara film festival near Holguin in Cuba was screening a new Cuban film ‘The People of the Documentary’ which aims to explore links between artists and musicians in Cuba and in the US, and to bring the two countries closer together culturally.

Back in 2018 Cuban filmmaker Inti Herrera and producer Raymel Delgado obtained financing for post-production from the Development Fund for the Promotion of Cuban Cinema, but with the pandemic, and various complications including obtaining consent of all those appearing in the film, the completion was delayed.

The Development Fund for the Promotion of Cuban Cinema is the Cuban film institute ICAIC’s fund established in recent years to support independent filmmakers in Cuba – making grants for different stages of the process to diverse young and emerging creatives.

In April 2018 the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC and the Ministry of Culture of Cuba, jointly presented the Festival Artes de Cuba at the Kennedy Centre. It was to be a historic artistic exchange. For the first time, a very large delegation of Cuban artists (living on and outside the island) were set to perform there, in a context of heightened political tensions between the two nations. Planning for the event had started when Obama was US president and unprecedented talks were taking place between the US and Cuba. Trump was now US president and increasing the measures of the blockade against the island.

Filmmaker Inti Herrera says it was producer Reynel who “saw the news about the event and the next day he told me, having coffee in the office, in derision: ‘Do you know that you are directing a film?'”

Inti Herrera, Cuban filmmaker

A long process of getting to the US followed. Inti has explained: “it was a difficult time in relations between the two countries. As Cubans living in Cuba we had to move to Mexico to manage our visas. Then through friends we obtained the reservations of plane tickets and Airbnb and a whole kind of rents that are impossible to do from within the island due to the conditions of the blockade.”

However, when the team were already in Washington they were told they could not film the Artes de Cuba event.

Instead they took the event as their core of inspiration, and delved into the artistic ties that connect both countries. It is a collective testimony of various actors – artists, historians, politicians, cultural managers – that is articulated through the experience of the independent film crew.

Filming The People of the Documentary by Inti Herrera

Among those interviewed are figures such as Arturo O’Farril, Aymée Nuviola, Yissy García, Aldo López-Gavilán, José Parlá and Manuel Mendive. The testimonies of Emilio Cueto, Cuban lawyer, art collector and researcher are also collected; Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2005 to 2009, and Emily Mendrala, who was executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and currently serves as deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“If you cannot make a documentary about what happens at the Kennedy Centre, it is essential to take what happened there to develop the documentary to be about what constitutes the true essence: the encounter between two cultures and the possibilities that each one offers as a vehicle for conciliation. The first bridge through which understanding can pass. Break the games of opponents and hatred,” explained Inti Herrera.

Interviewed just prior the Gibara film festival screening Imti Herrera told ICAIC’s CineCubano magazine: “…We have no expectations of how it will work at the prize level. But I can assure you that the film generates interest, that viewers see it and appreciate it. That’s mostly because the narrative of the film deals with the themes of love, exchange and similarities over differences. It is a discourse to build in a positive way. In the future, what unites us will prevail over what separates us, since human beings yearn for peace…Our documentary is a love letter to American culture and people, in the midst of a time when hatred reigns, and where bilateral relations between our countries are, arguably, at their worst. However, we retain the will to speak and to offer love.”

Based on this Cubadebate report, this interview with the filmmaker in RevistaCineCubano and this interview with Inti and Reymel in RevistaCineCubano

watch the trailer for ‘The People of the Documentary’