“The world is not designed for cinematic autonomy, because cinema is a tool of power.” It is an absolutist assertion, therefore, debatable, that Lynn Cruz advances very early in her book, but it is the idea that motivates filmmaker Miguel Coyula to create his art, for whom this is, more than an aphorism, a conviction.
Crónica azul (Diez años de rodaje) (Fra, Praga, 2022), the book by writer and actress Lynn Cruz, is the first-person, sincere account of the ten years it took Coyula to complete his film Corazón azul (2021). During that time, she was the director’s partner, but not a mere companion, or a passive entity blinded by admiration for the filmmaker, but a very active character, decisive in the realization of the project, which gives more value to the story.
Coyula is what I call an uncomfortable artist. He is someone who plays by his own rules and is not interested in pleasing anyone with his art. His commitment is to himself and to the vision he has of his subject matter and his style. He is interested in cinema as art and not as an industry (which it also is); he writes, produces, photographs and directs his projects, not caring about the time and effort it takes, as long as he doesn’t have to give in to external pressures. He makes the films he would like to see. He wants to maintain total control over his work.
He started very young, having just graduated from the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños. He made several short films that were highly regarded by those who watched them. At the beginning of the century, he came to the United States, where he shot his first feature film, Cucarachas rojas (2003), a film that unfortunately has had little exposure, but which has become a cult piece. Then, after several years of work, he completed, between Cuba and the United States, Memorias del desarrollo (2010), based on the work of Edmundo Desnoes. This film has many political facets that did not please the Cuban cultural leaders, since among other things it X-rays the figure of Fidel Castro. It is a deconstruction of the myth, and for this reason it was blocked in many festivals or did not get a satisfactory distribution, limited by the long tentacles of Cuban intelligence.
He decided to return to Cuba, where he is admired by his colleagues and the few who have had access to his work, but repressed and ignored by the authorities. He returned to hell, to his hell, to, as Cruz points out, inhabit it. In 2012 he began working on Corazón azul and that is when he and the author of the book met.
The film is a work of “science fiction”: it sets a dystopian world in which Fidel Castro has developed genetic experiments to create a new race. Which of course is a taboo subject on the island. But that doesn’t stop Coyula. He is not afraid to question the figure of the Supreme Leader. So much so that, in the midst of making Corazón azul, he completed a highly critical documentary on the revolutionary process whose centerpiece is the late poet Rafael Alcides, a man who at the beginning believed in the Revolution but ended up completely disenchanted and being repressed by the government. The documentary was titled Nadie (2017) and, of course, has had major distribution problems.
For decades, the Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry (ICAIC) had absolute control of film production and distribution on the island. In this century it has lost some of that power due to new digital media and a shortage of money. It has accepted co-productions with other countries, and, even under surveillance, the seeds of independent cinema have started to grow. But the ICAIC still controls what can be watch in the country’s movie theaters.
Crónica azul recounts the daily vicissitudes of someone who sets out to make independent films in Cuba. It not only tells about the pressures that the filmmaker and the actress suffered from the government, but also the low blows inflicted on them by friends and other professionals, frightened by the implications of working in an independent film directed, in particular, by Coyula. It is a book that illustrates the tenacity and risks taken by those who dare, as well as the cowardice and lack of solidarity of those who fear repression and accommodate themselves to it. There is even a chapter about an encounter with the now so famous actress Ana de Armas and her then partner, Ben Affleck, in which the Hollywooders end up evading Coyula and Cruz.
Told in a simple, efficient, well-written prose, this testimony not only powerfully illustrates the persecution suffered by Coyula and Cruz during the ten years of work, but is also full of very interesting opinions, with which one may or may not agree with, but which make you stop and ponder on them, as well as sharp analyses of political and cultural aspects of the Cuban reality, its influence on the national mentality, and the international scope of Cuban palace intrigues.
Lynn Cruz (1977) is a theater director. She has founded, outside the Cuban government control, the independent project Teatro Kairos LCAP; she has acted in several theatrical productions since 2003; she has had prominent roles in films such as Esteban Insausti’s Larga distancia and Rudy Riverón’s ¿Eres tú, papá? In 2021 she published Terminal, her first novel.
Crónica azul has earned her the Franz Kafka Essay/Testimony Award 2022, granted by the InCUBAdora platform in Prague. It constitutes a vigorous document, a testimony of censorship and the pressure of living under totalitarianism, which is not only of great value today for understanding Cuban culture, but which, I suspect, will become increasingly valuable over time.
Both Corazón azul and Crónica azul are committed and compromising works that are easy to approach in freedom, but in totalitarian countries it is risky to even try to know what they are about. They are daughters of the courage of their authors.