During the 38th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema held in December last year, the Cuban film El Techo (The Roof), by local filmmaker Patricia Ramos, was nominated in the fiercely contested debut fiction film category.
Although the film didn’t win a Coral Award, it did receive collateral prizes from the Sara Gómez Women Directors Network, and the Union of Journalists of Cuba’s Culture Circle.
According to the Sara Gómez judging panel El Techo was chosengivenits “freshness and originality,” as well as the “conceptual solidity” of the script and straightforward dramatic structure, while Cuban journalists praised the “film’s narrative, cinematography, soundtrack, and original characters.”
This summer El Techo was recently released acrosstheaters in Havana and the rest of the country. The 75-minute long production explores the dreams and problems of three young people; one Black, one White, and another who is pregnant.
The plot revolves around this trio of friends who meet up every day to tell their stories, talk about their dreams, and fantasize about a life of prosperity, although none of them have any money. Finally, the group decides to open a small pizzeria on the roof of the building where they live in Havana’s densely populated neighborhood of Cayo Hueso.
Ramos, with a degree in Philosophy from the University of Havana, and one in script writing from the San Antonio de los Baños International School of Cinema and Television, started out as a documentary maker and scriptwriter, producing highly acclaimed shorts such as NaNa in 2004; El patio de mi casa in 2007, and Ampárame, a documentary about religion and music, in 2009.
El Techo, Ramos’ first feature-length fiction film was shot – according to the director speaking at a press conference during the Festival – on a small budget. “The producer was my spouse Humberto Jiménez, and we also received backing from other international funds, and support from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC).”
Meanwhile, Jiménez noted, “The challenge with independent cinema is that you’re working with limited resources, but everyone involved contributed their talent in order to make this film. Quite often, a loss turns into a gain, for example the fact that we had a small budget meant that we had less time to film (17 days) and so in the end the film was ready sooner.”
The main characters are played by Enmanuel Galbán and Andrea Doimeadiós, young actors from National Prize for Theater winner, Carlos Díaz’s company El Público, alongside lyrical music student, Jonathan Navarro.
Ramos also opted for a young production team with Alan González as cinematographer, Kenia Velásquez – editor, and sound design by Angie Hernández, however, the music, all original scores, was left in the experienced hands of Magda Rosa Galbán and José Antonio Leyva.
Speaking at a press conference during the December Festival, Galbán and Leyva stated, “The mix of Cuban and Mediterranean music was the main resource to create the sound track for the film, as well as the use of the mandolin, so that you’ve got music constantly accompanying the plot development.”
An interesting detail connected to the use of the mandolin in the film: one of the characters, the young Black man, claims to have Sicilian ancestry and wants to trace his family in Italy.
Another noteworthy aspect of El Techo is its stunning visuals of Havana, viewed “as it should be” according to González, from above - “with dignity, and without destroying it, or over romanticizing it.”
It’s true that the film suffers from excessive dialogue, but makes up for it with a daring choice of location, shot entirely on a rooftop where the three youngsters share their frustrations, joys and dreams, and open their pizzeria.
Since ICAIC launched its New Directors Showcase almost a decade ago the number and quality of films presented has continued to grow, as well as its popularity among the Cuban public.
The Showcase was directed by Cuban filmmaker Fernando Pérez for several years; who expressed his confidence in the contributions being made by young directors, urging them to “reinforce quality, because in this imminent, transgressive and diverse search, the most important thing will most definitely be its artistic transcendence.”
Patricia Ramos is making her way along this path, both in terms of the themes of her films and their technical execution. El Techo is testament to this.