Making a feature film is never easy, but across the world few would-be filmmakers have encountered as many institutional barriers as black women. In fact, it wasn’t until 1991’s Daughters of the Dust, written and directed by Julie Dash, that a black female director found widespread distribution in the United States (for those counting, that’s over a century after the invention of the motion picture camera.)
So, to celebrate a long-overdue restoration and re-release of that classic of American independent cinema, the Brooklyn Academy of Music has decided to pay homage to the pioneering directors who broke glass ceilings both in the US and abroad with the series One Way or Another: Black Women’s Cinema 1970-1991. And of course, any film retrospective of this nature would have to include Latin America’s very own radical Afro-Cubana, Sara Gómez.
Trained as a musician and ethnographer, Sara Gómez came from the folkloric Havana neighborhood of Guanabacoa — traditionally viewed as one of the epicenters of Afro-Cuban popular culture. After entering the state film studio in 1961 as an apprentice, she worked as assistant director on several films including Agnes Varda’s Salut les cubains! and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cumbite. Though Gutiérrez Alea was a good friend and mentor to Gómez, he later admitted that “Sarita” was a disastrous assistant director: a minor defect she made up for with her uncanny originality, passion, and strength of character.
After completing several shorts, Sara set about making her first feature, De cierta manera. Ingeniously combining documentary and fiction, De cierta manera tells the story of a forward-thinking female schoolteacher who strikes up a relationship with a traditionally minded machista bus driver. Celebrated as a masterpiece of Cuban cinema, the film brings a penetrating criticism of racism, sexism, classism, and their persistence in Cuba’s revolutionary society.
Unfortunately, Gómez’s tragic death due to an asthma attack at the tender age of 31 left the film incomplete. Thankfully Gutiérrez Alea, together with filmmaker-theorist Julio García Espinosa, ultimately finished the film in 1974 according to Gómez’ original vision and brought Cuba one of its unequivocal masterpieces of film art. Catch De cierta manera at BAM Rose Cinemas, and be sure to check out the rest of this worthy program for works by directors like Julie Dash, Camille Billops, and Kathleen Collins.
De cierta manera screens at BAM Rose Cinemas on Saturday, February 18, 2017. Get tickets here.