[Marxism] Alfredo Guevara Valdés, 87, Steward of Cuban Cinema and Castro Ally, Dies
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Tue Apr 23 08:55:31 MDT 2013
NY Times April 22, 2013
Alfredo Guevara Valdés, 87, Steward of Cuban Cinema and Castro Ally, Dies
By VICTORIA BURNETT
HAVANA — Alfredo Guevara Valdés, a Marxist intellectual and ally of
Fidel Castro who presided over Cuba’s powerful state-financed film
industry and its many acclaimed movies for much of the Castro era, died
here on Friday. He was 87.
The cause was a heart attack, Cuban state media reported.
Mr. Guevara had been a friend of Mr. Castro’s since their days together
as politically active students at the University of Havana, where Mr.
Guevara, a member of the Communist Youth, was studying philosophy and
Mr. Castro law.
The two were involved in turbulent student politics aimed at ousting
Cuba’s corrupt leaders, and they were together during the Bogotazo, the
deadly riots in the Colombian capital of Bogotá in 1948 that were said
to have been a crystallizing event for Mr. Castro. Some believe it was
Mr. Guevara’s knowledge of Marx that helped put Mr. Castro on the path
Mr. Guevara was later arrested and tortured by the police during the
struggle to overthrow the Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista. He was one
of a small group of insiders who mapped radical reforms in the months
after Mr. Castro came to power, in 1959.
Mr. Guevara studied theater direction and worked with the Cuban
filmmakers Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Julio García Espinosa on “El
Mégano,” a 1955 film about charcoal workers that is considered the first
modern Cuban documentary. While Mr. Castro was fighting in the Sierra
Maestra, Mr. Guevara was in Mexico, where he worked with Luis Buñuel on
the 1959 movie “Nazarín.”
After Castro took power, Mr. Guevara spent more of his career stewarding
the movie industry than making films, becoming a recognizable figure in
Havana in his large-framed spectacles, cravats and the jacket that he
wore on his shoulders like a cape.
Mr. Castro, who saw cinema as a tool of mass education and as a means of
creating a national consciousness, appointed Mr. Guevara to create the
Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, known as Icaic,
which used generous state financing to become a virtual film monopoly
and the most influential cultural institute on the island.
“Cinema was the medium par excellence, and Fidel was aware of this,” Mr.
Guevara said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2009.
“Television for the direct message, cinema to stimulate reflection and
Icaic set up mobile cinemas using mules, boats and trucks to bring
movies to remote villages. It produced and distributed a weekly
newsreel, documentaries and as many as a dozen feature-length films a
year. Mr. Guevara also established a sound studio that became the cradle
of a new Cuban music, nueva trova, and oversaw the advent of the bold
silk-screen movie posters that became identified with Cuban film.
Under Mr. Guevara, Icaic produced Cuban classics like Mr. Alea’s
“Memories of Underdevelopment” (1968) and Humberto Solás’s “Lucía”
(1968), as well as “Now” (1965), a documentary about race in America by
“Alfredo was a vanguardist,” said Enrique Pineda Barnet, a prominent
Cuban filmmaker. “He changed the cultural panorama of our country, in
cinema, in music, in art.”
A committed Fidelista, Mr. Guevara nevertheless insisted that art should
not be subservient to politics.
“Propaganda may serve as art, and it should,” he was quoted as saying.
“Art may serve as revolutionary propaganda, and it should. But art is
Filmmakers credit Mr. Guevara with fending off censors and overseeing
films that criticized Mr. Castro’s Cuba. He was at the center of fierce
debates between artists and communist ideologues, clashing with Blas
Roca, a powerful member of the Communist Party leadership, in the early
1960s in a public row over the role of culture in politics.
“He had to confront a lot of polemic,” Mr. Pineda Barnet said. “And if a
polemic didn’t find him, he went looking for it.”
Some viewed Mr. Guevara as overly cautious in his desire not to provoke
the censors, while others considered him a savvy judge of the political
mood who held back movies that he believed would rock the boat too much.
“One of his great abilities was knowing how to navigate these complex
waters,” said Dean Luis Reyes, a Cuban film critic.
Some filmmakers said Mr. Guevara played favorites and criticized him for
constructing a slow, bureaucratic production system that left virtually
no space for young filmmakers or independent productions.
“His greatest error was not opening space for other voices,” Mr. Reyes said.
Mr. Guevara left Icaic in 1982 and spent nine years in Paris as Cuba’s
representative at Unesco, the United Nations educational, scientific and
cultural organization. He returned to Icaic in 1991 and remained with it
for almost another decade.
Mr. Guevara founded the International Festival of New Latin American
Cinema in Havana in 1979 and was its president at his death.
“Alfredo strove to create a new cinema not only for Cuba, but for all of
Latin America,” said Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Cuban
Writers and Artists. “He created a new vision of the world: more
critical, more realistic.”
Mr. Guevara was born in Havana on Dec. 31, 1925. His father was a
railroad engineer. He is survived by a son, Antonio, and two
grandchildren, the film festival office said.
State media said that Mr. Guevara’s body was cremated on Saturday and
that his ashes were spread on the broad steps of the University of
Havana, where he and Mr. Castro had forged their bond.
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