Filmmaker Luis Alejandro Yero denounced this November 30 a new case of censorship in the Cuban film industry: his feature documentary Llamadas desde Moscú (2023) has been excluded—without valid artistic justification—from the official selection of the 44th edition of the New Latin American Film Festival of Havana. This is happening while the island’s cultural institutions and, specifically, the Cuban Institute for the Industry and Cinematographic Art (ICAIC) are dragging their feet over the urgent demands from an Assembly of Filmmakers that emerged last summer as a result of a similar episode with La Habana de Fito, by Juan Pin Vilar, which—to make matters worse—would not have made the cut to be included in the December event either.
Sources with first-hand knowledge of the selection processes of the Havana Festival confirmed to Rialta Noticias pressures from the event’s board of directors to purge the definitive list of problematic works.
“What pretexts are they going to invent now given the absence of Llamadas desde Moscú in the Havana Film Festival program?” rhetorically asks Yero, whose work had its world premiere in February this year within the Forum section of the Berlinale. “For a month now, we have been aware that our film, and several others, were awaiting the last word, the final and definitive opinion of those mysterious and ever-present censors. Who are they? The Ministry of Culture? The Ideological Department of the Communist Party? State Security? You never know where that terrible snake begins and where it ends.”
In this sort of open letter, the current coordinator of the Documentary Chair at the International Film and Television School (EICTV) of San Antonio de los Baños says he knows at least a couple of things: 1) “that some of these films were notified of their inclusion just a day before the conference, as if some of these ridiculous and dangerous filters said at the last minute, ‘okay, let’s let them be’”; 2) “that some of the festival workers have been threatened and [have] received demands in the style of a vile mafia that they keep absolute silence about all these violations…”
But that’s not all… In a statement that surpasses the vast majority of public interventions and reports from his colleagues, who have been participating for several months now in the Assembly of Filmmakers, the winner—with Los viejos heraldos—of the Coral Award for Best Documentary Short at the 2018 Havana Festival underlines: “We know that Llamadas desde Moscú has been censored for some phrases that are perceived as uncomfortable as they point to the collapse and lack of morality of a government that underhandedly supports Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a government which has led to the ruin of an entire country and provoked the largest exodus in the history of Cuba—more than 500,000 people in a year and a half, the equivalent of 5 percent of its population—, a government which has its younger population scattered halfway around the world and[,] as some of the participants in the film say, they prefer to be at minus 20 degrees, illegal and in the most homophobic country in Europe, before returning to Cuba.”
In the opinion of the young Cuban director, it is “immoral to participate in a festival that hides these outrages and receives filmmakers from all over the continent as if Havana—a city sunk in sadness—were a Caribbean resort where to sip mojitos and pat each other on the back.”
The post, which appeared on Instagram and—via fellow filmmaker Jose Luis Aparicio—on Facebook, attests to the sadness and “deep rage” provoked by “this (yet another) gesture by Cuban political and cultural authorities who, increasingly isolated from their creators, hide all the stories that contradict or question their discourse.”
“But there will be no silence,” Yero continues, “nor oblivion in the face of these violent actions. Know that the nation’s narrative, culture, and society is less and less in their hands.”
The program of the Havana festival was made public a few hours after the main authorities of Cuban cultural institutions issued a choreographed condemnation of the IV INSTAR Film Festival, a transnational initiative that offers ample space to—although not exclusively—young and independent Cuban cinema from inside the island and abroad.
The public interventions of ministerial apparatchiks and, for example, Abel Prieto, the island’s cultural czar and president of Casa de las Americas, stemmed from an article that appeared in the online publication La Jiribilla—and was later reposted in other official media—that takes another documentary as a scapegoat, Veritas, by Miami-based Cuban filmmaker Eliecer Jiménez Almeida, who interviews members of the 2506 Brigade whose armed incursion in April 1961 was defeated at Playa Giron/Bay of Pigs (southwest coast of the country).
The official historiographic narrative was immediately activated to disqualify not only the film and the testimonies included in it, as an alleged “exaltation of terrorism,” but also to label the festival promoted by the Institute of Artivism “Hannah Arendt”—led by Cuban artist and oppositionist Tania Bruguera—as a “screen” for who else but the CIA.
According to voices familiar with the intricacies of the film establishment in Cuba, the attack against the IV INSTAR Film Festival would not only be the result of the usual rejection by the officialdom of this type of dissident initiatives, nor would the fact that it coincides in dates and could, in a way, being perceived as competition explain it in its entirety. It also would have served as an immediate “smokescreen” to once again exercise censorship under the very noses of the Assembly of Filmmakers and the participants and guests at the “mecca” of the “new Latin American cinema.”
In addition to its debut in Berlin and its inclusion in the INSTAR competition, Llamadas desde Moscú was included this year in the prestigious Hot DOC Canada and the 22nd edition of MoMA’s Festival of International Nonfiction Film and Media. Also, it was screened almost six months ago as a Latin American premiere at the Guadalajara International Film Festival.