I’m still wrestling with my feelings about the latest vacation craze to visit Cuba like it’s a new theme park. To an extent, I think most Cubans are, if they’re not already on the traditional side of “hell no, America shouldn’t go.” But much of what I’ve brushed up against outside my Cuban community is still riddled with stereotypes. The cigars, the Scarface accent, you name it I’m probably over it.
One silver lining I’ve found are folks who are genuinely interested in the culture, art and history of Cuba. There’s the cynical side of me that first saw Cuba: Golden 60s, BAM’s programming of post-Revolution Cuban films, as another bid to ride the Cuban vacation craze, but I softened. So many of the films are ones I had never seen among my parents’ and grandparents’ collection of poor quality bootlegged movies smuggled from the island.
I am Cuba (Soy Cuba) is a lovely composed postcard of various old Cuban landmarks: the nightclubs, rural countryside and city life. It captures Cuba’s haves and have nots in a period of transition, close to the start of Castro’s regime. But I always feel the director’s outsider point of view when watching Soy Cuba. The way the camera gawks at people is a compositional choice that doesn’t make me feel that I’m among my people. It makes me feel like I’m watching someone else’s culture, not my own. Its distancing lens is an artful landmark, but not one I’ve felt emotionally attached to. This wasn’t how my family saw Cuba.
And since Cuba is almost always equated to old cars and crumbling bright buildings, I adore the hell out of Lucía because this movie takes place in different eras of Cuban history. Spanning the course of 70 years, our three different protagonists, all named Lucía, must overcome different eras of oppression in order to survive. It’s unapologetically feminist despite its historical drama background. Lucía is a more classically narrative film than I am Cuba, but rather episodic since the movie jumps from the 1890s, 1930s and 1950s. It’s also the first film to play in the BAM series.
The rest of the films are sadly ones I have not seen. The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin is a comedic movie about the misadventures of a boy growing into adulthood. Memories of Underdevelopment follows a bourgie couple learning to live under communism. There’s a shorts program from director Santiago Alvarez, as well as another historical drama, The First Charge of the Machete that’s filmed in cinéma vérité style. I’m sure you can guess what Death of a Bureaucrat is about.
I will try to go to as many of these as I can, and I encourage folks reading this to do the same. In my years of attending repertory programming, I haven’t seen a lineup focused on ‘60s Cuban cinema quite like this. I hope that NYC cinephiles will take the chance on the rich Cuban film history to check out something beyond I am Cuba, which is typically the only answer I hear when I ask about Cuban movies. Heaven forbid someone answers me that Scarface was a Cuban film ever again.
Here is a peak at some of the films from the series…
This post originally appeared on film critic Monica Castillo’s tumblr and was republished with permission.