Before 1959, there had only been an estimated 80 films produced in Cuba.
Following the Revolution of 1959, the new government founded the Dirección de Cultura del Ejercito Rebelde. The influential documentaries LA VIVIENDA and ESTA TIERRA NUESTRA were key components in the introduction of the Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos, which came up with a definition of “film”:
“the most powerful and provocative form of artistic expression, and the most direct and widespread vehicle for education and bringing ideas to the public.”
Alfredo Guevara headed the ICAIC until 1980, which had a key role in the development of anti-imperialist and revolutionist ideas. He was made to give up his position as a result of the ambitious Humberto Solás film CECILIA, due to the director’s controversial interpretation of the film.
The Década de Oro was the most influential era of Cuban cinema, referring to the period of 1959-69.
A milestone in the cinema of Cuba…
Lucía (1968) (D: Humberto Solás)
This is a period piece, told in separate stories in different moments of Cuban history: the Cuban War of Independence, the 1930s and the 1960s, by three different women all named Lucía.
And, the following year…
Memorias del Subdesarrollo (1968) (D: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
This is an interesting character study of alienation during the turmoil of social issues. A writer looks back at the Cuban Revolution and the 1962 Missile Crisis, with a subjective point of view.
Other acclaimed and influential films from Tomás Gutiérrez Alea:
Las docce sillas (1962) (D: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
La muerte de un burócrata (1966) (D: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Los sobrevivientes (1979) (D: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
Santiago Álvarez made documentaries, such as NOW!, which examines how racial discrimination is presented in the American media.
Essential in the history of Cuban cinema is the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano (Latin-American ICAIC News) whose first director was Alfredo Guevara, current president of the ICAIC. It was later directed by Álvarez and the Mexican Rodolfo Espino, the most successful documentary filmmaker in the island.
Guevara’s successor as head of the ICAIC, Julio García Espinosa, thought cinema should be more conscious toward socio-political issues. His views were supported by funds from government, and from the USA. In 1991, however, Espinosa stepped down due to the massively controversial ALICIA EN EL PUEBLO DE MARAVILLAS.
A recurring event in Cuba is the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano (International Festival of the New Latin-American Cinema) celebrated each year in Havana since 1979, and it is the most important of its type in Latin America. There is also an international cinema university, the Escuela Internacional de Cine, Televisión y Video de San Antonio de los Baños (International School of Cinema, Television and Video of San Antonio de los Baños) in San Antonio de los Baños near Havana, supported by the Cuban government and the Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, Gabriel García Márquez and the Father of the New Latin American Cinema, Fernando Birri.
The contribution of ICAIC was not limited only to the support of native films — it would also exhibit of the best of cinema from all over the world, create the film archives of the Cinemateca de Cuba and take part in initiatives such as Cinemóviles, which saw an improvement in the general availability of film all over the country.
One of the most acclaimed films in more recent years…
Fresa y Chocolate (1994) (D: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
The story of a young homoxexual who opposes Castro’s dismissal of the LGBT community, but whose classmates see him as a threat to Communism. The issue of LGBT prejudice became a main focal point of 1990s Cuban society, and various political issues were reassessed following commotion of past political films.
Today, hundreds of students from all over Latin America study all aspects of film at the Escuela Internacional de Cine, Televisión y Video de San Antonio de los Baños.