Over the years, twelve films from the International School of Film and Television of San Antonio de los Baños de Cuba (EICTV), have been part of the IDFA Competition for Student Documentary. These short films reveal the sharp perspectives of young people from diverse geographical and social backgrounds. All chose a common ground for their education: an atypical school since its conception, located in the Cuban countryside, which has proven extraordinarily fertile for cinematic imagination and production. Today, we look back on the contributions of these extraordinary filmmakers with a retrospective of films: a pathway through the IDFA collection and a reminder that, in the midst of a global health crisis, the training of our filmmakers is more important than ever.
On this day, 43 students who make up the EICTV class of 2020 should have attended their graduation ceremony. They are the 27th wave of filmmakers to pass through the school.
The Plaza Za of our campus—named after Cesarse Zavattini—should have already been decorated with dozens of flags signifying the multiple origins of our students. There, after receiving their diploma and celebrating the culmination of three years of studies, the filmmakers should have come together and embraced in the middle of the Cuban night for the annual graduation photo.
Yet today, as is the case all over the planet, we are living different times. The graduation photo of the class of 2020 is very different from how anyone could have imagined.
Yes, the tiny molecule that has paralyzed the world also found its way to our remote enclosure. After a student tested positive for COVID-19, the school went into quarantine and was forced to "get her foot off the accelerator," in the words of its academic director Jerónimo Labrada.
As in most schools in the world, classes ceased, but not the love for cinema. In full confinement, some students found refuge in photography. Others felt the natural need to film, and went on to produce beautiful and powerful pieces that immerse us in emotion and reflection. The short films Fire, [Space], and Soul Box are examples of this. So is the photographic series Chronicles of the Nasobuco by Nicolás Ordóñez, Head of Communications at EICTV.
The solidarity of the Cuban people in the most complex times is not a myth. Neither is the strength and ability of their doctors. Now is no exception.
Thanks to the unconditional dedication of EICTV’s staff and the discipline of its students, the school found creative solutions to ensure the livelihood of the entire confined community. EICTV managed to stop the spread of the virus through its people and set everything in place for students to gradually return to their countries.
Looking ahead, the complex situation we still have to overcome is certainly huge. With cinemas closed in most countries, with empty airports, with the increase of unemployment and all the economic turmoil, many ask us what the future of EICTV and its young filmmakers will be.
In times of uncertainty, it can be a great incentive to approach our elders, the wise, to guide us and advise us. Sadly, a few days before this whole situation started, Senobio Faget, whom we affectionately call "Puri" and who until recently was the head of the Documentary Department, died. Driven by a strong desire for an impossible dialogue with him, I made the short film Yunfa in his honor. And while it is true that today we do not have all the answers regarding our future, I believe the stoicism that always characterized Puri contains, in itself, the message we need today.
Embodying the spirit of EICTV, Puri was a volunteer teacher at the Sierra Maestra in the 1960s. For decades, he traveled on international missions and filmed Cuban stories that earned him several awards and recognitions. Puri led the Department for more than fifteen years with a generous and noble heart. To a large extent, we owe him credit for the twelve documentaries that are part of this retrospective today.
Puri did not only admit students to the Department in a thorough manner; he also encouraged them to take risks in their creative choices. The work of Puri and his team contributed to the special voice that the “EICTVians” express in their productions today, a voice which continues to garner the interest of so many international programmers and festivals.
For this reason, the EICTV name has become an undisputed symbol of excellence. It is worth mentioning here that the winning film of IDFA’s last Feature-Length Competition was none other than In a Whisper by Heidi Hassan and Patricia Pérez, both graduates of our institution.
Through the various difficult situations that we have faced, many graduates have recognized an eternal debt to the school and renewed their commitment to it. Thus, throughout our history we have overcome difficulties of all kinds: meteorological, economic, political, and personal. We've always found the formula and solutions to get ahead.
Currently, we find motivation and hope in the hundreds of young people who recently applied to be part of the next generation of EICTVians. None of them have withdrawn their candidacy because of the pandemic.
Today, the school has also received numerous signals of support, helping us navigate more forcefully through this complicated 2020. It is an honor that IDFA, by way of programmer Raúl Niño Zambrano, offers us a warm embrace and recognizes the value of our work.
This EICTV retrospective presents works that are free and poetic: a crazed train journey that doubles as a microcosm of the Cuban nation; a lonely man who sails through a vast dam and gradually disappears.
There are images that shock, such as the succession of painful close ups on female bodies subjected to real torture in the name of Caribbean beauty, or the powerful portraits of older women who share flashes of their still-open emotional wounds.
The films of EICTV take us to the playful world of coastal children, whose imagination contrasts poignantly with the reality of the landscape. They even take us to a little circus full of magic in which the spectators, under a green tent, become unexpected protagonists.
There are moments that will go down in history, such as the twelve-minute single shot filmed on the day of Commander Fidel Castro's funeral, or the twilight of the peasant elderly couple who witness the elections of a new president on television.
Today, the 27th wave of EICTV filmmakers had to return home sooner than they would have wanted and without all the films they hoped to make. But in their unusual graduation photograph, despite the fact that all of them are maintaining distance and wearing masks, you can still make out some huge smiles. Looking at the photograph, someone even remarked, "from a distance, it's by far the cutest graduation photo."
EICTV is standing and very much alive. Because we are a close community that has just reached 1,000 graduates who remain in constant communication; because we love and take care of each other; because Cubans like Puri taught us the importance of resisting and sharing; because as Alfonso Reyes wrote, “we know everything together”; and because we will defend this space in which we were, we are and will be freer than ever.
Together with the EICTV , IDFA has put together a selection of 12 films from EICTV that have been part of the Student Competition throughout the years. The films can be viewed here free of charge.