May 9, 2011

Cuban Filmmakers Speak About National Filmmaking in the Digital Era at the Film Studies Center's film series "The State and the Digital."

The film ended, the lights flicked back on, and hands shot into the air. Immediately, a symphonic strain of Spanish-English voices weaved throughout the room as a QA session commenced.

One voice belonged to the young Cuban actress Annia Bu Maure who had traveled 1,300 miles to host the screening of Larga Distancia (Long Distance) at the University of Chicago's Film Studies Center (FSC). She sat at the head of the room while curator Laura-Zoe Humphrey translated between Bu Maure and an audience of about 60 PhD candidates, graduate students, undergraduates, faculty, and visitors who had commuted to Hyde Park exclusively for the event.

"The State and the Digital" screens Larga Distancia

This was "The State and the Digital," a film series that highlights young Cuban filmmakers and their use of new digital media in contemporary Cuban filmmaking. The series comprises two events, the first taking place in February of this year and the second in April. All together seven films were shown, one feature length and six short.

For the first time in the United States, Esteban Insausti and Angélica Salvador's film Larga Distancia (Long Distance) was screened after an introduction given by Humphreys in February. In April, Insuasti and Salvador finally arrived alongside director Alina Rodríguez Abreu, glowing in front of another FSC audience, their short experimental films projected radiantly across the screen.

Humphreys, a joint Anthropology and Cinema Media Studies PhD candidate, spent several years in Cuba alongside its young directors and filmmakers conducting research for her PhD thesis. With the aid of various University organizations, Humphreys and Davis Reek, one of Humphreys' former students through the University of Chicago's Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, had achieved the seemingly impossible. In addition to coordinating the film series, they managed to obtain four visas for the Cuban artists who were present at the events—no small task in the face of the mountain of bureaucratic red tape involved. As a result, they were able to bring some of the innovative talent Humphreys had worked with, along with their films, to Chicago for the first time.

Interdisciplinary funding attracts broad audience

"We ended up with funding from the FSC Graduate Curatorial Program, the Department of Cinema Media Studies, the Arts Council, the Franke Institute, and then also the Center for Latin American Studies," Humphreys says. The project received a "positive response across the board…from everyone," which in turn allowed Humphreys to include two more Cuban directors than initially planned.

Humphreys' avant-garde film series allowed the FSC to become a meeting place for an incredibly wide range of students, professors, and others from a variety of disciplines across the University and city.

"We had attracted a different group from the usual…because we had funding from across the University," Humphreys says. "It was actually an incredibly ambitious undertaking and would have been impossible to do alone."

By Alexa DeTogne, AB'11