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A Cultural Revolution: Top 10 Cuban Directors
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A Cultural Revolution: Top 10 Cuban Directors

Picture of Melissa Pearce
Updated: 2 November 2016
After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the ICAIC (The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry) was created and encouraged by Fidel Castro with the aim to promote the country’s film enterprise. With a present rift existing between the cinemas established within the state production of Cuba and the films produced independently, we look at some of the pioneers of Cuban cinema from history and the present day.

Alfredo Guevara (1925-2013)

Founder of the ICAIC and supporter of the Third Cinema (or the Latin America New Wave) Alfredo Guevara was a long serving friend and supporter of Fidel Castro, and was an incredibly important figure in the cultural revolution of Cuba. In the mid-50s he worked on the documentary film El Mégano (1955), which is seen as an important piece not only due to the time it was made but also the fact that before its creation there existed no modern time documentary pieces commenting on life in Cuba. Focusing on the organisation rather than the direction of the film after Castro took power, he is seen by many as a great intellectual and revolutionary figure in Cuban cinema.

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928-1996)

One of the most highly regarded directors to come from Cuba, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea was political from a young age, supporting Fidel Castro’s ideals. In the years following the political shift, the subject matter of his films was often a satirical viewpoint on the state of post-Revolutionary Cuba and what life was like within the country. He is most commonly known for political works such as Stories of the Revolution (1960) and Death of a Bureaucrat (1966). His films tend to deal with problems of cultural identity, which is a common theme within the Third Cinema.

Juan Carlos Tabío (1942-)

With a prolific career in the film industry that covers three decades and includes both work on documentaries and comedies, Juan Carlos Tabío is best known for his co-direction of Strawberry and Chocolate (1994). A film of cultural importance, it dealt with issues linked to homosexuality at a time when it was illegal to be gay or lesbian in Cuba. The Waiting List (Lista de Espera) (2000), for which he was nominated a Goya, has been seen to look at the implemented Communist ideals and how these were arguably unsuccessful. Recently in 2008, his film The Horn of Plenty (El Cuerno de la Abundancia) took a comic look at socio-political issues.

Fernando Pérez Valdés (1944-)

A famous name in the Cuban film industry, Fernando Pérez began his work in the ICAIC in 1962. After his early documentary films, Pérez made a shift to more expressive works, starting with his first work of fiction, Clandestinos (1987). His films since then have still retained an informative style, successfully unifying his talents in documentary filmmaking and the more accessible narrative fiction attributes of his later works. Suite Habana (2003) was a contemplative look at contemporary life in Havana and was celebrated by critics and audiences alike. Today he continues to serve as a successful director and popular public figure.

José Massip (1926-)

José Massip has a career which spans over 50 years and includes involvement in some of the most important cinematic feats in Cuban history. Like many of the founders of New Cuban Cinema, he started working with the ICAIC. Initially working alongside García Espinosa, Massip began making documentaries in the 1960s and in 1962 made the much celebrated Historia de un Ballet (1962). Regarded as an archetypal example of post-Revolutionary Cuban cinema, this film won several awards including the Golden Dove Grand Prize. Massip has since been given the National Culture Distinction and the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists’ Caracol award for his extensive contributions to Cuban cinema.

Humberto Solás (1941-2008)

Most commonly noted for his films dedicated to the lives of Cuban women, Humberto Solás began his career in film with his education in Rome, where he studied a course on film. His commentary on the contributions of Cuban women through history, Lucía (1968), brought him international recognition and made him a celebrated director. Winning several awards including Cuba’s National Film Prize in 2005, Solás was a respected member of the Cuban film industry and contributed to up and coming filmmakers by founding Gibara’s Poor Cinema Festival.

Pastor Vega (1940-2005)

Pastor Vega was the first director of the Havana International Film Festival which is today the leading event in the Cuban film calendar. Acting as a leading member of the ICAIC, Vega was well known for his exemplary documentaries and his film Portrait of Teresa (1979), which looked at the events that take place during the break up of a marriage. Regarded by many as one of the ICAIC’s most controversial films, this film induced an uproar amongst the public following its release. Portrait of Teresa brought him awards such as Outstanding Film of the Year at the 1980 London Film Festival, and he is seen to have aided Cuban cinema in the formation of its independent voice.

Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti (1961-)

Contemporary filmmaker Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti often deals with cultural identity and emigration, seen in his children’s film Viva Cuba (2005). This film outlines the struggles of children whose families and friends are affected by emigration, highlighting the importance of friendship around the neglected problems of children and the ways in which their needs and concerns are disregarded. Also notable from the director is his 2001 film Nada (Nothing): following a female protagonist who is given the chance to emigrate to America, the film sees her struggles in deciding whether to better her own life or put others before herself and stay in Havana.

Sergio Giral (1937-)

Cuban-American independent director Sergio Giral grew up in New York, but was originally from Havana. Surrounded by creative types during his involvement in the underground beatnik scene in the late 1950s and 1960s, this environment encouraged his work as a painter. However, through a chance meeting he found a job at the ICAIC which led him to work on several documentaries and short films. His most famous works are The Other Francisco (1975), Rancheador (1975) and Maluala (1979), which tackle the subject of slavery in Cuba and the Caribbean in the 19th Century. His latest work, Dos Veces Ana (2010), is his first whilst living and working in the U.S.

Alejandro Brugés (1976-)

An independent filmmaker, Alejandro Brugés directed the Art House film Personal Belongings (2008), but is predominantly known for Juan of the Dead (2012) which is Cuba’s first real attempt at the zombie film genre. Taking a comic look at society, Brugés has said of the film ‘It’s about Cubans and how we react in the face of a crisis because we’ve had a lot of them here over the last 50 years.’ Seen to be bringing Cuba up-to-date with the modern film industry, Brugés proves what the Cuban independent film industry is capable of.