[Marxism] Q&A Cuban Filmmaker Pavel Giroud on the censorship debate

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Oct 20 12:58:52 MDT 2007

(EXCELLENT, no-bullshit interview with the director of a great
Cuban film which deserves a wide international release. I saw
it here in Cuba earlier in the year, and it was presented also
at the Latino Festival in Los Angeles last Sunday. If there
were any justice, this film would get at least an art house
release in the United States. But since even SUITE HABANA,
didn't get that, even a film like his, which deals with such
perennial topics as family division in the aftermath of the
Revolution, the status of woman, and other themes, may not 
get the release it so obviously and righteously deserves.)


By Dalia Acosta

18 October 2007

HAVANA, Oct. 2007 (IPS/GIN) -- The Cuban Radio and Television
Institute's recent decision not to broadcast several video clips by
national filmmakers has rekindled controversies surrounding the
government's cultural policy and its effects on the media.

E-mail protests from artists and filmmakers have revived the debate
among local intellectuals that began in January and are coinciding
with a series of public debates initiated by acting President Raúl
Castro. The acting president inaugurated the debates in his July 26
speech, calling on people to question "everything we do, in order to
constantly improve how we do it."

Paradoxically, several of the video clips in question are works
supported by other state or political institutions in the country.
For one reason or another, the videos' circulation had been limited
to small groups or screened once at a festival, never reaching the
wider Cuban public that was intended as their main audience.

Cuban filmmaker Pavel Giroud has been participating in an electronic
debate about this issue with other Cubans within the past few weeks.

Giroud has an extensive background as a director. His films include
"La edad de la peseta" ("The Silly Age"), which came out in 2006 and
received one of the highest numbers of awards for Cuban filmmaking in
recent times. He personally experienced censorship when his video for
the song "Mi generación" by the rock group Tesis de Menta was
rejected by the Cuban Radio and Television Institute.

Giroud agreed to participate in an e-mail interview with IPS.

IPS: How does censorship work in the arts media? Who makes the
decisions, how do the filmmakers find out, and what chances do they
have to argue their case?

PAVEL GIROUD: Censorship works here just like it does everywhere,
except that because it's Cuba, it's closely scrutinized. In my view,
censorship isn't a national monopoly. Every television network and
publication in the world has its guidelines for broadcasting or
editing, and whatever does not fit the requirements gets left out.

HBO [Home Box Office] refused to broadcast [U.S. director] Oliver
Stone's documentary about [Cuban President] Fidel Castro, because it
didn't take the focus that the network wanted. So they insisted on
another interview with Fidel. In other words, what Stone wanted to
say about his interviewee didn't matter -- what mattered was what the
network wanted to show.

The Spanish movie "Lucía y el sexo" ["Sex and Lucía," which was
released in 1991] was censored in many U.S. states because it had too
much explicit sex. In the Middle East there are cultural rules about
how women dress. In China they cut whole sequences out of films when
they feel certain precepts are violated. The author of "The Satanic
Verses" has spent his life fleeing death. Cuban filmmakers made
"Fresa y Chocolate" ["Strawberry and Chocolate," which was released
in 1993] and it took a decade before Cuban television saw fit to air

Personally, I prefer that a work of mine not be broadcast, rather
than be told to change my shots or remove footage. Nor am I
interested in hearing their explanations. The mere fact of being
silenced is so serious that the reason why pales in comparison,
because it will never be a good enough reason for the person who is

IPS: Isn't it paradoxical that Cuban television, a state institute,
should censor works of yours that have the backing of the Asociación
Hermanos Saíz, an organization bringing together young Cuban creative
talent under the guidance of the Young Communist League, and the
state recording company EGREM? In cases like this, what support do
creative artists get from [Asociación Hermanos Saíz] or the Union of
Cuban Writers and Artists?

PG: I cannot explain what I have not been able to understand myself.
I don't think these institutions are supposed to function as trade
unions. I defend the autonomy of the institutions, precisely because
I criticize all centralization, from the economic to the cultural
spheres, so I see no reason why [the Union of Cuban Writers and
Artists] or [the Asociación Hermanos Saíz] should be in conflict with
television. In my particular case, we needed help from [Asociación
Hermanos Saíz] to make the video, and they provided help.

The problem is with television, which evolves at a snail's pace.
These musicians are the victims of censorship, just as singer and
songwriter Silvio Rogríquez was in his day, and the striking thing is
that many "cursed artists" are still in the country, singing,
writing, painting and bringing Cuba prestige.

IPS: In your contribution to the e-mail debate, you mentioned the
easy ride enjoyed by those who make video clips that are high on
banality, low on creativity and to a certain degree politically
opportunistic. Why do you think this type of work is favored in the
national media? Is television a sort of "fiefdom" on the margins of
the political culture of the country?

PG: Banality and lack of creativity are favored everywhere. Turn on
any music video channel in the world, and you'll see that for every
artistically worthwhile video, you have to put up with several others
that fit the description I gave in my written contribution.

The same buttocks writhing around the machista reggaeton star, the
same seductive gestures by the "in" singers, the same slow-moving
shots of love scenes at sunset, the same sheen on the biceps, the
same sensual moves, the same phony little smiles. I think we in Cuba
are definitely not the principal producers of these.

It's a much safer bet to produce an album of Puerto Rican reggaeton
star Daddy Yankee or Mexican pop singer Paulina Rubio because they
sell, they don't make any trouble, and if they do, substitutes are
close at hand. Making commercial music is more about opportunism than
mediocrity. Lots of good musicians or painters do what sells.

The same happens in politics -- there is opportunism on both sides,
by the makers and by the broadcasters. The broadcasters know that a
video full of praise for the system won't make any trouble for them,
and the creators know perfectly well that they will get on television
much faster if they write a song, produce a video or film, or paint a
picture in praise of a political figure.

Cuban culture is full of examples of singers who used to turn out a
song for every historic, revolutionary commemoration, and who are now
singing boleros on 8th street of Little Havana in Miami; painters who
before the 1959 revolution painted [Cuban dictator Fulgencio] Batista
and afterwards painted [Cuban-Argentine guerrilla leader Ernesto] Che
Guevara; and writers who while they received benefits from the
revolutionary government, wrote books about the heroes of the
Escambray mountains, and now write terrible things about Fidel.

Opportunism is everywhere, and similarly everywhere television is a
fiefdom which the owners use according to their own desires. Who
would dare to speak well of communism on Channel 51 in Miami?

IPS: This controversy about the video clips that have been censored
-- like the intellectual debate that began in January -- is taking
place predominantly by e-mail, and very probably only a small number
of people involved in artistic circles are participating. Do you
think it is necessary to open up discussion of these issues to Cuban
society in general?

PG: Whether or not I think so doesn't matter, because everyone thinks
so. Cuba right now is having an intense debate, which is not only
cultural. I think we are living through a time when those above want
to listen to those below, and those below are hoping for support from
those above. But in the middle there's too much dead wood: people who
have no ideals beyond their own selfish interests.

A coward's a coward on either side of the strait and will keep silent
even when he or she has the opportunity to speak.

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