Many Cuban Art News readers know that low-budget and independent audiovisual production is an important aspect of the island’s creative life. But few of us living elsewhere are aware of the thriving, grass-roots audiovisual scene that has developed in the small, isolated town of Nuevitas—including a much-awaited screening festival each summer. Pedro Navarro, one of the movement’s organizers, spoke via email with writer Yainet Rodríguez Rodríguez.
Some days before this interview, thankfully, I came across Juan de las Cuevas Toraya´s book, Cuba, la memoria en imágenes. Among hundreds of pictures and brief descriptions of cities and towns in Cuba, I discovered that Nuevitas, located on the northern coast of Camagüey, was a fishing village, a hamlet, a site of coastal trading, and in 2002, it was classified as a “ciudad de tercera” (a third city) with 38,985 inhabitants.
I still don’t know exactly what “third city” means, but the image that comes to mind is a semi-paralyzed space, at a considerable distance and disconnected from the cultural and artistic activity of Camagüey, the provincial capital, and from Havana.
Nevertheless, Nuevitas attracted attention in 2007 when a group of its young people, without formal film training and on their own initiative, made their first short audiovisual work. It was not made at random. And so, in light of what is already known about the Movimiento Audiovisual Nuevitero (MAN, in English the Nuevita Audiovisual Movement), we interviewed Pedro Navarro, one of the movement’s initiators and organizer of the Festival Hieroscopia, via e-mail.
What circumstances led to the emergence of the Movimiento Audiovisual Nuevitero?
At first it was not called that. Around 2006, a group of us—Dayron Porrúa, who was then studying art history; Eyder Armas, a computer technician who made all the technological options available for us; a group of art instructors trained in visual arts and theater who were really eager to help, including Geordanis Santana, Leonardo Gómez, Javier Sanchez, and I; and other friends—got together to shoot a short film called El oledor de pólvora (The Gunpowder Sniffer).
The film wasn’t shown in any festival. But we learned that it was possible to shoot media, with few resources, in such a remote place as Nuevitas, on the northern coast of Camagüey. After that, production didn’t stop—it increased, and more people got involved. We began to participate in festivals around the country and gained recognition. So we kept going.
What are the common interests that bring you together? What are the objectives?
The name, Movimiento Audiovisual Nuevitero, is one we have just agreed on to encompass video productions coming out of Nuevitas, and made by citizens of Nuevitas. Before, each individual audiovisual production was credited to a production company identified as the creative entity. Thus, odd names appeared: Macbeth´s Knife, Producciones a Pedradas, Prohibiciones Producciones, La Kasa Producciones, Rexistencia, and CTR Films, among others. We agreed to recognize all productions under the general name “Movimiento Audiovisual Nuevitero (MAN),” although each could continue using their individual “brand.”
In my opinion, we are a movement; we have solid audiovisual work and we share similar interests. Fiction predominates in our work, but there are also documentaries, video clips, video art. There have even been some approaches to animation, a genre that’s still pending but which we find interesting.
The acronym of the movement [in Spanish] is MAN. That suggests a work that comes from man and that goes toward mankind, as well as the humanity of artistic creation, as an element of reflection and self-discovery. We are united by the creative fiber, the strong desire to make movies, and by friendship and the desire to tell stories.
We want more and more people to become involved in audiovisual production; especially those without a title to legitimize them ina certain capacity, but who know how to tell stories and have ideas to express. We want to continue to learn, and to share what we’ve learned along the way.
After seven years, what are the common characteristics of the videos produced by MAN?
We have an informal learning, based on experience, but every filmmaker has his particular issues and aesthetics. Since the beginning we have been linked to indie film, B films, and trash, as they were the references that came to us. We saw in them a viable alternative. We are indie not only for the sake of following the aesthetic, but also because we have realized all our works without any institutional support. Technological limitations have marked our style, which has to do with the tools we use.
By now, we have realized that there is a growing desire to improve the production quality of works and to polish the stories. Our productions already show maturity as a result of a regular and systematic practice; it´s worth noting that we have made almost 40 works.
This also depends on the length of time each filmmaker has been working with us. New people join us and those with a little more experience share it with newcomers. However, at the end of the day what matters is to make films and see them projected on the screen in a city which hasn’t had a cinema for more than 15 years.
What procedures and working strategies have you developed to overcome the shortage of resources?
Since the first short we produced, the formula has been the unity of all: sharing the little we have and know. Collaboration has been instrumental in making the work. Money has never been an obstacle among us. First, because we have none; secondly, because we like it this way, and it gives meaning to our lives in such a small town where you have to find reasons and motivations: cultural options are zero in a place so far from the artistic epicenter of the country.
Add to this that we have no access to the Internet, which prevents us from gaining the information we need to update our work and communicate with the world. Given these requirements and limitations, audiovisual production has been our means of expression and the vehicle to end the solitude and silence of Nuevitas.
In this context, the close bond between the filmmakers and the people is particularly striking. Have you consciously developed strategies to create and promote this link, or was it a natural development?
Rather than having a close relationship with the context or the people, the Movimiento Audiovisual Nuevitero is the people, making audiovisuals in their own context. So the feedback pathways are straightforward. Perhaps many will not realize it, but it’s great to have such a powerful medium to make a mark. To exorcise our demons, overcome scarcity, and realize our dreams and creativity—just like that primitive man who left an imprint of his hand on the wall of the cave thousands of years ago.
Nowadays, people without a known name, a school, or a position reveal themselves, such as they are, on the screen. In their images they present their daily lives. They show what they’re made of and reveal their aspirations—even those crazy things that Silvio says are not worth curing.
I think that much remains to be done. We’d like to do more presentations of our work, but in Nuevitas there are no movie or video theaters. Videos go from one flash drive to another, and from time to time some fragments of a work are transmitted by the municipal telecenter. If we had the means, we’d love to go from neighborhood to neighborhood, showing what we have done. Meanwhile, we’ll keep making audiovisuals as the creative seeds sprout.
In the midst of this creative effervescence and striving for higher quality, there are those who sometimes do invisible work. Citizens of Nuevitas perform, lend their clothes for others to wear on screen, provide snacks, and share their stories. People we don’t know stop us in the street to recall some memory from their lives or to relate a fictional story. Every day we add new talents—people who appear, eager to devise projects. Our works have such an impact because of people´s encouragement and commitment. That´s not artificial or imported.
We cannot think that we have the ultimate truth and that the contributions of others are inferior. That would be like forgetting the way we were born. However, it is likely that at some point we will commit that sin. Let’s hope that we’ll always have the good sense to rectify and recover from that misstep. Our strength lies in the feedback and the new winds of renewal that come with every person who joins us. If we lose the essence, we´ll be leading MAN toward ostracism and a slow, agonizing death.
How can a movement without funds or big sponsorships organize the Festival Hieroscopia, already in its fifth edition?
First, with much perseverance. Despite not having the means required, our audiovisual production has not stopped. Nor have we lost the desire to show our work, to swim against the tide and not succumb to limitations. There was a time when we had a group of works that we wanted to submit to the opinion of a wider audience, outside our municipal boundary. The aim was an exchange with critics, videographers, and filmmakers who, not being involved in the movement, could give us an unbiased opinion of what we do. We also aim to bring videos and movies to Nuevitas.
In Cuba, to organize a film festival in a town, from a municipality with almost no funds and with works made in that same municipality, is unprecedented. There is our beloved Festival de Cine Pobre (Low-Budget Festival) of Gibara, which is also held in a municipality, but is headquartered and organized in central Havana’s Calle 23. Hieroscopia was born in Nuevitas and is still in Nuevitas, on its way to the fifth edition.
Organizing it demands months of sleepless dawns, devising strategies and ways to ensure that we accomplish the basics. That we can make it happen is thanks to the teamwork of MAN participants, the support of Nuevitas citizens who identify with this initiative, and those who believe in what we do, such as the Vice President of the Municipal Council, our godmother, who is one of those responsible for helping Hieroscopia to survive for five editions.
MAN has shown works in different environments and events: in galleries in the city of Camagüey, at the video festival Almacén de la Imagen, the International Low-Budget Film Festival, ICAIC’s Young Filmmakers festival, the Surimagen audiovisual festival, and in Havana at the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, and at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano. MAN has also worked with Television Serrana. What was the reception of the works presented in these venues, especially those that have a very local focus?
There is a phrase to the effect that “the more you are yourself, the more universal you are.” The fact that the works have the Nuevitas hallmark hasn’t prevented them from being understood in other contexts. On the contrary, the reception has been very favorable. Wherever we go, people are surprised that a place like this is doing things of such importance. They’re astounded by our commitment and desire to continue. We always listen to the advice they give us because that has helped us to grow. We’ve also encountered a lot of good people who have given us their support and their expertise.
I think the reception has been good because the works show a hallmark of great authenticity. Working in different genres, each of us shows concern for our cultural, social, and family environments. There is a condensation of cultural prejudices, especially in such conservative spaces, that is often given too much importance. We have carried a part of the history of Nuevitas into the audiovisual realm. We don’t renounce humor, or the poetic touch, or criticism. I think the toughest critics are ourselves, the MAN members who every day become more serious about the work.
Where do you see MAN and Hieroscopia in two to five years? And how to position them for a bright future?
I’ll answer you halfway between sleep and objectivity, as you say. The first goal is to continue to exist. The mere fact of producing audiovisuals is a complex challenge, but it is equally challenging to see that MAN remains a team effort. So we must foster communication, unity, mutual respect, and understand that each criterion and vision is important.
Beyond what we have achieved, improving our knowledge is another outstanding issue. We need to take courses in specific areas and get up-to-date with what is happening in the world.
We must strengthen and expand our experience. We would like to have the resources to make the works, give presentations, and have public consultations. We’d like to develop strategies to make our work visible and grow in value. We’d like to jump-start those projects that have been postponed and postponed again because we didn’t have the means or the technology. And we’d like to celebrate Hieroscopia each year.
To make life worth living, we need to dream, and then achieve those dreams. For some time now, MAN has ceased to be a dream and has become a reality. I don’t know what the future holds for us–whether it’s light or dark, whether we’re at the entrance or the exit. I know only one thing: people like me began making audiovisuals to escape boredom. I look back and ahead, and all I see are opportunities. There are so many others like me.
MAN will continue because there are still so many stories to tell in our lifetime.
To screen Desinstalandome, a two-minute video screened in the 2014 Festival Hieroscopia, click here.