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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This week at SFC: I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Feature film will commence at 8:15pm.

Earlier this year as part of our mini Cuban film series we screened Soy Cuba -- this week we screen a recent documentary about the making of that film.

Thursday December 7th

I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth (Vicente Ferraz/Brazil/2004/Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, English subtitles/90')

In 1962, a team of Soviet cineastes and intellectuals, led by the eminent director Mikhail Kalatozov and including the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, traveled to Cuba to make an epic film about that country's recent revolution. After two years of collaboration with local actors, writers and technicians, they produced “I Am Cuba” (Soy Cuba) which displeased both the Cuban public and the Soviet authorities. The movie languished in obscurity until 1995, when Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese helped bring it to the attention of international western audiences. By then, in the wake of Communism's collapse, it could be hailed as a lost classic of a strange, fraught historical moment - a "Bolshevik hallucination," in the words of the film critic J. Hoberman.

"I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth" is a 2004 documentary by Vicente Ferraz, a Brazilian filmmaker, who digs into the past to illuminate Kalatozov's extraordinary blend of formal bravura and revolutionary didacticism. Interspersing shots from the original film - many of which are justly famous for their power and complexity - with interviews, Mr. Ferraz has produced a welcome piece of historical explication.

Mr. Kalatozov's film, whose gloriously overwrought look owes much to the cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, was a product both of Castro's revolution and Khrushchev's thaw. The Cubans who worked on it were happy to be involved in such a sophisticated production, while the Russians were filled with curiosity, occasionally tinged with condescension, about this new, tropical member of the Socialist fraternity of nations. The movie, a hugely ambitious and elaborate project combining four main story lines, was conceived as a grand poem of the revolution.

And it often felt that way as it was being made. Mr. Ferraz's interview subjects are full of fond reminiscences of the process. But their view of the product largely reflects the Cuban response when the film was shown there in the 1960's, and ridiculed in the press for its stylistic excesses and lack of realism. In the Soviet Union, it was officially disowned partly because its images of the Westernized decadence of Cuba before Castro seemed dangerously alluring. It is one of the ironies of modern history that the seductiveness of "I Am Cuba" could only be appreciated after the crumbling of the ideology that sponsored it. The film and its fate, deftly explored by Mr. Ferraz's archaeological excavation, represent one of the chief paradoxes of Socialism, which inspired so much idealism and inspiration and at the same time set about to crush and discard so much of what it inspired.


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