Cuban documentary film makers have tried hard to preserve and rescue national heritage. As well as works of fiction, almost every director’s filmography includes materials dedicated to great artists and scientists.
Two such films, which pay homage to singular national figures, were recently premiered in Havana.
The first audiovisual, Danza de crineswas premiered at the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana, and also broadcast on Cuban television’s Canal Educativo 2, while Una leyenda costeña was presented to the press at Havana’s Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center.
Danza de crinescharts the life and career of Dr. Antonio Martínez Arredondo, a renowned veterinarian and father of the National Ballet of Cuba’s founder and current director, prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso.
The documentary, with a running time of 57 minutes and produced by Televisión Cubana, was directed by Luis Hidalgo Ramos, who also doubles up as screenwriter alongside Jesús Moreno, with cinematography by Yosnovi Frías.
As it turned out, years ago Moreno, who is also president of Pinar del Río’s Veterinary Scientific Council, had been given the responsibility by Alicia Alonso’s family of reviving the figure of Dr. Martínez Arredondo.
Following the traditional interview format, the film recalls how in 1929 Dr. Martínez Arredondo was contracted by the Cuban National Army to improve the country’s equine population by reviving the numbers of Spanish-Arabian horses on the island.
In order to do so, the vet and military official traveled to the Spanish city of Jerez de la Frontera (Asturias), returning with 30 pregnant mares (15 Arabian and 15 Spanish-Arabian) and three stallions.
However, the visit would also mark another important moment; the moment when Dr. Martínez Arredondo’s seven-year-old daughter Alicia Martínez del Hoyo, fell in love with Spanish folklore and learned many of the country’s traditional dances after her father took her to that city in the province of Cádiz.
The documentary places special emphasis on interviews with the legendary prima ballerina herself, who recalls on camera her visit to Jérez de la Frontera with her father; as well as those with outstanding Cuban flamenco dancer Irene Rodríguez, who speaks about Alicia Alonso’s initiation into the genre and how she successfully absorbed all the different styles of Spanish dance.
Of course the filmmakers traveled to Jerez de la Frontera, from where they offer brief images from the show “Cómo bailan los caballos andaluces” at Andalucía’s Royal School of Equestrian Art; an incredible fusion of equestrian art and dance, that this reporter had the opportunity to see live this spring.
The show is an equestrian ballet with traditional Andalusian and Spanish music, and riders dressed in 18th century-style ceremonial attire, with choreography constructed around dressage and other traditional equestrian exercises.
As well as paying tribute to the life and work of Dr. Antonio Martínez Arredondo, Danza de crines moves audiences as they experience the passion with which Alicia Martínez del Hoyo, the mythical Alicia Alonso, speaks about her father.
FROM THE COSTAL TOWN OF COJÍMAR
The documentary entitled Una leyenda costeña is dedicated to two stellar actors of Cuban theater, television, film and radio, and longtime residents of the coastal town of Cojímar - Yolanda Pujols and Salvador Wood.
The audiovisual, directed by Patricio Wood, is a tribute to Salvador and Yolanda, who celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary in 2015. Unfortunately Yolanda, a renowned figure of Cuban radio and television, who together with her sister Carmen was a popular personality among female radio hosts, never got to see the finished film, as she passed away that same year.
Salvador, meanwhile, starred in films such as La muerte de un burócrata, by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and El Brigadista, directed by Octavio Cortázar, an important reference in Cuban cinema.
Meanwhile, the documentary’s director, actor Patricio Wood’s wide-spanning film career began at 14 years of age when he starred in 1977 in the aforementioned production, El brigadista,alongside his father Salvador. Since then, he has worked on over ten Cuban films and co-productions with other directors, including Guardafronteras, by Octavio Cortázar; Caravana, by Rogelio París; Juan Carlos Tabío’s El elefante y la bicicleta; Tirano Banderas, by Spanish director José Luis García Sánchez; and most recently Últimos días en La Habana, by Fernando Pérez.
This time however, Patricio Wood has gone behind the camera to make an interesting documentary that only the son of Salvador Word and Yolanda Pujols could have made.
In Una leyenda costeña, produced by the Octavio Cortázar Documentary Development Center affiliated with the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the director took on the challenge of telling his parents’ story, individuals who, as we see in the documentary, have lived a simple life.
Patricio Wood spoke briefly about his new work with Granma International at the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center:
Is this your first time behind the camera?
The documentary is my first big experience, but to give you a bit of background I have been directing since I was young. I am a founder of the Federation of Amateur Film Makers created by ICAIC, where we made 8mm audiovisuals, which I still have, and some I’ve even digitized. Later I made shorts with the Asociación Hermanos Saíz, one of which was called Era por mi amor, and another Resolución.
Was there any conflict between director and parents?
Not at all. The documentary kind of turned the house into a workspace, where we filmed everything. We see the interviewee shaving, people working in the background, putting up lights, like something in progress; and we try to create a sense that the house is also their workspace. That’s what their life was like; the house was a studio, a theater. They were great times for my parents; they were very happy and loved the idea (typified by Salvador in the documentary, describing it as “a prelude to eternity.”) I didn’t feel like a director or their son, I simply felt that I had to make them tell me the story of their lives, all the while remaining who they are.
I knew how to work with them, where to strike to get the truth out of them, as residents from Santiago de Cuba, Cubans, as a couple. I felt like this was my absolute duty.
Tell us about the screenplay…
I focused on their personal relationship and important events in their professional lives that demonstrated their love for each other, how they helped one another, how their relationship strengthened and grew out of their vocation which lasted a lifetime, just like their love. I think the message is that there is no contradiction between loving your profession and loving your partner. On the contrary, they nourish each other.
Music plays a special role…
What happened with the music was very important. Esther García Mariño from the Octavio Cortázar Production Center convinced maestro Frank Fernández to give us the opportunity to have some original music. When Frank finally invited us to his studio to do the first interview he already had an idea for a song, and instead of sitting down and talking about the documentary, we listened to what he had created the previous evening.
He said to me, ‘I don’t know what kind of documentary you’re going to make, but it must have the beautiful way your mother always looked at your father; that’s what inspires me.’ It’s a very lyrical piece which he entitled “La nobleza,” and features his spouse Alina Neyra on the cello, and percussion by Aroldi Chapman. The music is a great gift to the documentary.
Why the title?
It’s from a verse of a poem that my father wrote for my mother.
In Una leyenda costeña actorPatricio Wood takes an original and innovative look at his parents Yolanda Pujols and Salvador Wood, as a couple and as artists, united by love and art. “I tried to get close to who they are; sitting there in their quiet moments.”
Danza de crines andUna leyenda costeña,two new audiovisuals paying homage to national figures and above all parents, are a genuine gift to Cuban documentary filmmaking, a field which put Cuban cinema on the global scene in the 1960s, but later entered a period of decline for various reasons, and now returns to reclaim its rightful space.