Eliciting Smiles with "Viva Cuba"

He has been one of the jost outstanding filmmakers in Cuba for the past several years. Whether he tackles a short or a feature film, good taste and talent are assured. He is the young Cuban filmmaker with the jost international awards.

In May, his feature-length film "Viva Cuba" — performed by two children — won an important prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It is the first time a Cuban film receives an award at that important competition.

Cremata, always courteous, amid his multiple appearances and press conferences, about to release his film in Havana, has agreed to chat with Progreso Weekly. Here he is today, answering my questions.

He has been one of the jost outstanding filmmakers in Cuba for the past several years. Whether he tackles a short or a feature film, good taste and talent are assured. He is the young Cuban filmmaker with the jost international awards.

In May, his feature-length film "Viva Cuba" — performed by two children — won an important prize at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It is the first time a Cuban film receives an award at that important competition.

Cremata, always courteous, amid his multiple appearances and press conferences, about to release his film in Havana, has agreed to chat with Progreso Weekly. Here he is today, answering my questions.

Progreso Weekly(PW): What does a Cannes Film Festival award mean for Cuban cinematography?

Juan Carlos Cremata (JCC): To every filmmaker, the greatest prize always is to make a movie — and to make a movie that's widely seen, of course. Imagine what this means for a filmmaker in a country like ours, where the difficulties in moviemaking are increasingly greater. One never makes a movie thinking of awards, because — at least for me — the prize is the possibility of leaving it in the mind, the memory, the conscience or the reflection of the moviegoer.
I tell you truly that we weren't expecting the award, after so many efforts, so much work and so much incomprehension in its production. We finished the movie one week before the Cannes Festival and decided to participate — with a special permission to show it in digital form — in the prestigious festival, only as a preview. And it turned out that it won the Grand Prix Écrans Juniors.

The movie pioneers many things in Cuba, not only because it deals with Pioneer children but also because it is the first Cuban film performed by children and was shot throughout the country with a new camera, the Panasonic 100AE, that's giving incredible results in its transfer to 35-millimeter stock, which is now being done at the famed Eclair laboratories in Paris.

"Viva Cuba" is the first Cuban film shot in a place all of us Cubans know but few Cubans have visited: Punta de Maisí. Also, it was shot in an alternative fashion, without the schemes of production our industry normally follows. But it turns out it has become the first Cuban film to win a prize at Cannes.

That's why I like to think and say that it is an award for all Cuban filmmakers, who work so hard making movies in these difficult times in which the honest, sensitive and humane world faces the sequels of terrorism. It is edifying to have the opportunity to shout, nationally and internationally, our country's right and duty to exist.

PW: I understand the jury was an unusual one and that it didn't reach a verdict easily in your case. Would you tell us what happened?

JCC: The jury was composed of 24 children. Its foreman, the only adult, was a well-known French actor named Bernard Menez, who, among other things, had worked with Truffaut on the very well known film "La Nuit Americaine."

Well, it seems that this actor was not very taken by the word "Cuba," so he started to fret about the award. But, as the children's teacher later told me, the 24 children unanimously selected the movie as their favorite.

Seeing not only the children's reaction but also their parents' reaction (let me make clear that these were French children and parents who had to read the French subtitles to understand the movie) was truly thrilling. So, what initially was a preview all of a sudden became a beautiful act of solidarity, sensitivity and culture.

I must stress that "Viva Cuba" is not a children's movie but a movie for all ages; that is, it can be enjoyed by children and adults.

PW: Just when we expected the second film in your series "Nothing" — or the announced "Candela" — you show up with this pleasant surprise of a movie for all ages. How did that come about?

JCC: Everybody knows that "Nothing" is the first part of a trilogy, already scripted, followed by "Nobody" and "Never." However, one never makes the movie one wants to make; only the movie one can make. We always have to be on the lookout for producers, so we have to simultaneously develop several projects.

It's like fishing, you know? You cast the bait to see who "bites." And, despite the huge national and international success of "Nothing," we didn't find anyone interested in producing the second and third parts. That's why we began to work on a musical called "Candela," but we innocently got in trouble because a musical needs a great deal of production: musicians, dancers, choreographers, actors, etc.

Besides, the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry) began to object about the musical being shot in Santiago de Cuba. So, because Elegguá tell us that when a door closes two other doors open, we decided to develop an "alternative" project to an industry that was raising many obstacles — project commissions, advisers, authorizations, etc. — and decided to carry out an idea that, curiously, we had always thought of doing, even long before "Nothing."

That's when we ran into a person, named Vilma Montesinos, who was central to our movie. Many years ago, she opened the doors to us of the children's programming on television, so we could make shows that were very successful among our audience. Those shows were called "When I Grow Up" and "And a Butterfly Said."

One day, while talking to her, it occurred to us to knock on the doors of television again, and to return to television with something big, although directed mainly at the youngest children. By the grace of Elegguá, some doors began to open (some closed) and that feature film began to grow. With it, I learned more than I taught, and we again opened an alternative path for audiovisual productions in our country.

PW: What is "Viva Cuba"?

JCC: "Viva Cuba" is a road movie filmed throughout the country. It's a family movie, not only because it's aimed at the entire family but also because it was a chance for me to work with aljost my entire family. My mother, Iraida Malberti Cabrera — who is an institution in her work with, for, and with children — is the movie's co-director.

In a way, "Viva Cuba" is a kind of homage to everything she did, does and will do for education, the development of sensitivity and the respect for the fantasy and rights of children. In addition to her, I was lucky enough to work with my older brother, Carlos Alberto, "Tin," who did a special cameo appearance and gave us all the support and love with which he directs the children's ensemble La Colmenita [The Little Beehive].

Once again, I worked with my cousin, Guillermo Ramírez Malberti, who was art director. And this time I worked with his brother, who of course is also my cousin, Amaury Ramírez Malberti. Along with a well-known French musician named Slim Pezin, Amaury composed all the music for the film. And, of course, I had my "good-luck-charm actress," the only woman who has appeared in all of my projects, my grandmother, Sara Cabrera.

Like everything else I do in this life, this movie is the best way I know to answer those who, with their brutal and unfair act, cut short the lives of my father and so many other innocent people in that lamentable and deplorable sabotage against the Cubana airliner in Barbados.

If what [the perpetrators] tried to do was to scare us, silence us or immobilize us, well, here is our answer. It's the common and loud shout that we expect from our public and the public everywhere in the world in response to our willingness and vocation to continue to elicit smiles for the construction of a better future and a better world.

PW: What can you tell us about your little actors?

JCC: The script was written especially for those two children. At the time I first met them, when they were only five years old, I fell in love with them and wanted to make a movie with them. They are very intuitive children, very natural, and luckily the time was right for me to work with them.

If they had been any younger, nobody would have believed the plot. Now, one year after they filmed it, the children have grown too much. So, we made it at just the right time. I think it was a process where I learned more from them than they learned from me.

We made sure that the children preserved that marvelous naturalness they display on the screen. And even though everything we filmed was on the script, there were many scenes they themselves generated. Those scenes emerged thanks to the charm and imagination of the children.

PW: Any project you tackle is a sure award-winner. Has this inevitability taken the thrill away from you?

JCC: It would be pretentious of me to see myself as a King Midas, with the awards bestowed on our projects. I think I'm a very fortunate person because, unlike jost people worldwide, I do what I like to do. That's why love is never in short supply in what I do. And emotion is a feeling that goes hand-in-hand with the tremendous love with which I tackle what I do.

PW: Here comes the trite, inevitable question: What are your immediate plans?

JCC
: I can talk to you about everything I dream about. My biggest dream is to bring to the screen one of the novels I consider to be among the jost important in our literature: "Men Without Women," by Carlos Montenegro. It is a one-location project with more than 83 characters. All of them are males, no divas among them. It is a hard, very strong movie and I'm fighting for it every second.

The script was written years ago and we're trying to obtain the rights to turn it into a movie. But I also have other projects that feed my dreams. I've already written the cinema version of "The Skinny Prize" that marvelous play by Héctor Quintero, and I'm working on another project for and with children. Besides, I have not given up on the idea of "Never," "Nobody" and "Candela."

I am also thinking a lot about a story about the young girls who helped Martí in Tampa during the War of Independence. And a story about the only Nazi ever to have stayed at the Hotel Nacional. To change my experimental vocation a little bit, I'd like to do a period movie, something classical though not conventional.

I've always wanted to film Miguel de Carrión's "The Honorable Women," or "The Impure Women." Somewhere there's a script I wrote based on stories written by Cuban women authors — Marilyn Bobes, Adelaida Fernández de Juan, and Milene Fernández — tentatively titled "Someone Has To Cry." And I've just fallen in love with "Pedro Blanco, Dealer in Negroes," that incredible novel by Lino Novas Calvo.

I would like to do something other than films. I constantly pester Carlos Díaz, asking him to let me stage a play with his marvelous ensemble The Public. Mi brother is aware of my interest in presenting a stage version of Maeterlinck's "The Blue Bird" with his Little Beehive. And if I find an interesting script or idea, I would like to direct a television series.

For a whole year, I developed a documentary project about the Cuban cinema in the 1960s, which I called "Because Cinema Is an Art," but I don't know if I'll get a chance to do it. Who knows what I'll wind up directing: nightclub acts, circus acts, ballet, Reggae or cartoons. Whatever I do, you can be certain, I'll do with all my affection, with all my strength, in other words, with all my love.

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