1960s Cuban Documentary Night

15 May

Last night on the way home from work I ran into my friend Andres, who told me that he was on his way to a free documentary. It had something to do with social something or other, and since I had nothing better to do, and it was free, I told him I’d go. But I needed to go home and change first. I was still in my work clothes. White shirt, black pants, black shoes, and a black jacket with my briefcase. As I put it, I looked like a Bible salesman. So I caught up with Andres and a couple other guys outside the theater.

When we got there we found out that it was actually $2.50 to get in, and though no one really wanted to pay, we were already there and there was nothing else to do. Taking time to debate, we eventually went in just as the first documentary was starting. The theater was hosting a film festival starting this week and lasting into next week, and we’d be able to vote on the documentary we saw. The 9:30 showing consisted of a series of Cuban documentaries from the early 1960s.

Obviously, the theme of most of these documentaries was Communism and Fidel Castro, and how things were so great in Cuba. It was borderline propaganda, and for a while seemed to me what would be the news reels that used to be seen before movies in the 1940s. “Buy War Bonds,” types of footage. “Fight Back the Hun. Enlist Today.”

One documentary showed clips of a speech Fidel gave to thousands of Cubans in Havana, with Che Guevara sitting at his side. The crowd went wild and at the end waved together, arm in arm. It was pretty impressive, and if it weren’t for the next documentary, you’d think everything was honky dory in Cuba. The following film showed a poor village where people lived off of the land, evidently poor but happy. From my perspective, anyway, you could see how there were still people struggling to survive in the country. Whether or not that was the goal, I’m not sure.

The next couple of documentaries were a bit stranger, taking an artistic, post-modern look into American influence. With images of JFK and LBJ being crossed with images of death and other odd things, it was all anti-U.S. propaganda. You could even see the beginnings of photoshop, as the director had LBJ’s face imposed over a knight in shinning armor. This film also included speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and Stoakley Carmichael.

The best film was a short one that stared off with a jazz rendition of “Hava Negila” while simultaneously showing footage of race riots in the South. Unfortunately the last film wasn’t shown and the lights unexpectedly came on, forcing us out of the theater. Left to discuss what we’d just seen, one of the guys thought they were great, while a couple others didn’t think they were anything special. Not a bad way to kill a couple of hours, but when I went home I still had to watch an episode of “South Park” just to kind of wash the taste out of my mouth.

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