Cubans have been avid filmgoers since the artform’s inception, and in the 1950s, Havana had more movie theaters than most other cities, including New York and Paris. Around that time, and with immense support from the Revolutionary government, Cuban filmmaking entered a “Golden Age” in which a number of Cuban directors gained prominence in Latin America and the world producing a widening array of acclaimed dramas, comedies, documentaries, and animations. Film production on the island has risen and fallen over the past half century depending on political, social, and economic factors, but the legacy that has been left behind by Cuba’s directors includes many classics that have been recognized among the great films of Latin America and the world.
Although cinemas on the island rarely screen these older films, Cubans still go to the movies to see the latest domestic releases as well as films from other parts of the world, and price of admission is around 7 Pesos, or less than 50 cents. If you’re going to Cuba, and feeling ambitious, check out some of the films below to get a sense of Cuba through the lens of some of it’s great filmmakers. Since the U.S. and Cuba are still working out agreements on licensing and trademark law, some films are available (and many with subtitles) on Youtube — links are included when available —
Now (Dir. Santiago Alvarez 1965)
A short film that is considered one of the first “music videos” for displaying a montage of images and video footage (of police brutality against African-Americans in the U.S.) over American protest songs.
Muerte de un Burocrata (Dir. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea 1966)
A satire critiquing the rise of the socialist bureaucracy in the first few years of the Revolution. The film follows an average Cuban who’s uncle, a model socialist worker, dies and is buried with his work I.D., which is needed for the uncle’s widow to receive his pension.
Lucía (Dir. Humberto Solás 1969)
Considered one of the great films of Latin American cinema, this follows three women from different time periods in Cuban history as they deal with the struggles of the era and universal struggles of women. The DVD (remember those) is available from Amazon here.
Memorias del Subdesarollo (Dir. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea 1968)
This film takes place in the early years of the revolution and follows a bourgeois anti-hero as he meanders through life in search of meaning in a society that has suddenly placed his interest last on the priority list. The DVD is available here.
Fresa y Chocolate (Dir. Tomas Gutierrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío 1993)
A groundbreaking film that was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film, it follows the relationship of two men — one, a gay artists struggling with social and professional discrimination and censorship of his artwork, and the other a young patriotic student who idealizes the Revolution and excuses its mistakes. A low quality version of the film is available for free streaming here, or the DVD is available here.
Vampiros en La Habana (Dir. Juan Padron 1985)
A madcap animated film chronicling the epic turf war in Havana between a Chicago crime syndicate and a multi-national vampire gang. The film centers around the fast-talking Cuban trumpeter Pepe, who is the grand-nephew of Dracula, and a magic potion invented by his uncle that makes him immune to the deadly rays of the sun.
Suite Habana (Dir. Fernando Pérez 2003)
A poetic documentary that wordlessly follows various Havana natives through their lives, illuminating struggles and small triumphs of ordinary people. The DVD is available here.
Juan de los Muertos (Dir. Alejandro Brugués 2011)
Inspired by “Sean of the Dead,” this film comedically imagines a zombie takeover of Havana, from the point of view of a commitment-avoiding Cuban manchild. Below is an unsubtitled version, or you can stream it on Amazon here.
Viva Cuba (2005)
A touching story of two kids who are separated by a family move, and go on an adventure across the whole island of Cuba to find each other. Available on DVD here.
If you’re looking for Cuba podcasts, there are several that deal specifically with Cuba and then some single episodes of other podcasts that feature Cuba in some way or another. All these are worth a listen because they give some insight into life on the island. (Some are in Spanish) Radio Ambulante (Spanish) This NPR […]
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