Director/Producer Nicole Cattell talks about how she chose the artists featured in REVOLUCION: Five Visions, Cuban art and the global marketplace and the material that didn’t make it into the film.
What led you to make REVOLUCION: Five Visions?
I saw some photographs of Che Guevara that so perfectly captured the dream of the Cuban revolution that I was instantly captivated by them. I started to look into meeting the photographer. This is what led me to Raúl Corrales. Then I started to get more interested in trying to find out what became of that dream so beautifully defined in a photo. So, it made sense to me to look at this question through photography, and that is how the film became about five photographers whose work spans nearly five decades of revolution in Cuba.
What did you want to achieve with your film?
I wanted to offer a multifaceted perspective of the Cuban revolution and explore the intersection of art and revolution. I have always been interested in not only how artists respond to and describe their social circumstances, but also in how they can participate in transforming them. I wondered how artists participated in a society that was undergoing radical transformation or revolution. Initially, the film was just going to be about the photographers who were hired by Castro to document the revolution. The story became more complex when I realized that the revolution was not just one moment in time in Cuba, but that technically, the revolution is still happening on the island. So it made sense to work with artists whose work spans that entire period. And it allowed me to discover the changing and varied perspectives on revolution.
How did you select the artists profiled in the film?
First, I selected photographers whose work spoke to me (as I knew I would be spending a lot of time with it) and whose characters engaged me (as I knew I would be spending a lot of time with them). In addition to that, I wanted to portray artists who not only view the revolution differently from one another, but who also have different approaches to photography.
What material was most difficult to edit out of your film?
There are really three answers to this. First, the hardest thing to cut out was an entire character. We shot six photographers but only five are in the final film. The sixth was a woman, which made it even more difficult to cut her out because she would have been the only woman depicted in the film.
The second thing was a scene that was really hard to edit out. It was a scene about a series of photographs by Manuel Piña called Deconstructing Utopias. It is a series about a very utopian project called the Microbrigades that took place in Cuba, where everyone got together to build housing for themselves. But in the end, there weren’t enough apartments for all the people who were building. Piña did a beautiful series about these buildings. The final photographs were not totally fixed in the printing process, so the images would slowly disappear while hanging in the gallery. The images’ disappearance is a metaphor for the disappearance of the utopian dream.
And the third thing that was really hard to edit out was a line by Raúl Corrales where he says, “I know that the revolution hurt some people, but all births are painful.”
What period of time did filming take place and when did it conclude? Any updates on what the people profiled in the film have been doing since then?
Filming took place for about five weeks in 2002 in Cuba and for two weeks in 2003 in Mexico and Miami. José Figueroa and Reñe Peña are still in Cuba doing their work. Gory is still in Miami doing his. Manuel Piña is teaching in Vancouver. I am very sad to report that Raúl Corrales passed away in April 2006.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
The hardest part was simply communication. First, there is the language barrier since I don’t speak Spanish. Second, there is the difficulty in communicating with people in Cuba while you are here in the States. Everything that happens with Cuba takes a long time and is complicated by the lack of diplomatic relations between our countries. While we had a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to go to Cuba to shoot, it was still difficult and complicated to get anything done.
How did you gain the trust of the people you interviewed and get them to open up on camera?
I think this is the key to what makes or breaks a documentary. On the one hand, it’s ephemeral and difficult to define, but on the other hand, it’s pretty simple—just relating to people in an open and honest way. It is also my favorite thing about documentary filmmaking—establishing a trusting relationship.
What do you think the future has in store for Cuban artists?
That’s almost impossible to say since it’s so integrally tied into the future of Cuba. Right now, in Cuba, because the Cuban government sees them as emissaries in a sense, artists are actually privileged in that they are free to travel and they have access to foreign currency from the sale of their work abroad. Also, there is not the same commercialization of art on the island of Cuba itself—which could be considered an advantage in the sense that you can create without needing to think about what sells (though they may need to think about this in terms of selling their work abroad). So it’s hard to say. If Cuba is overrun by the homogenizing effect of the global marketplace, then art will reflect that and the artists will have to grapple with the commercialization of their work at home. In this case, they may find a kind of restriction they hadn’t before. But if Cuba is able to continue to resist the homogenizing effect of the global market, then perhaps we’ll continue to hear the decidedly Cuban voice coming from the island 90 miles off our shore.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
I hope that this film can help inspire dialogue not only about Cuba, but in a larger sense, about the artists’ role in transforming society. I think public television is the best place for a film like this since it can reach the broadest audience.
What are your three favorite films?
The New World
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
I’d rather say what I did get done—I got married and had a baby!
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you would be doing?
I think I would be a midwife because there really is no greater miracle than birth.
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Don’t do it unless you can’t NOT do it.
What sparks your creativity?
Research, wonder, and stepping up to the plate even when the plate is empty.
View a photo gallery from the photographers featured in REVOLUCION >>