EICTV implements the teaching philosophy of “learning by doing” with teachers who are active filmmakers. It was founded in 1986 by Colombian novelist and screenwriter Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Argentinean poet and filmmaker Fernando Birri; and Cuban theoretician and filmmaker Julio Garcia Espinosa, amongst others, and is supported by the government of the Republic of Cuba.
Over the course of time, thousands of professionals and students from over fifty countries have graduated from this famous film institute. Three students from the Drexel group—Nick Bell and Anna Pruett, two Americans, and Inbal Madar, an Israeli American—openly discuss their experiences in Cuba.
Nick Bell: Beyond a smattering of cold war history factoids, I only knew that Spanish was the official language and that Cuba was largely off-limits to people from the United States.
Inbal Madar: All I knew about Cuba was that it was a Communist country that just recently opened its gate to Americans, and also that it had a wonderful, colorful culture. I am Israeli, so several of my friends did visit, and they all said that the Cuban people are very nice. It was all true.
Anna Pruett: I knew about the high school version of American history that pertained to Havana, and nothing else. I loosely remembered the significance of the Bay of Pigs, and understood that the country was Communist. I also had the idea that baseball and mojitos [a traditional Cuban cocktail] were some of the country’s well-known exports.
Eger: Describe the film project that you were working on in Cuba.
Madar: Our film The Cuban Connection (a working title) will display the Wi-Fi in its early stages. There are only certain spots in the city that are Wi-Fi accessible. Cubans use it mostly to communicate with their families, since it is cheaper than regular phone calls. People have to stand in the street in order to connect. Some even have to travel from out of the city in order to connect.
The islanders we interviewed were expressing how new technology changed their relationships with their families and how it made them better. As of now, Cubans finally get to communicate with each other—after years of disconnection. I find it fascinating that they are only just now getting exposed to these technical connections—all part of the changes that Cuba is going through.
What we may see as trivial is far from being trivial for them. They don’t use the phone for games, watching movies, or social media—they just want to talk to their relatives. Family is the core value in Cuba. This subject, in a way, also connected to my research about their television viewing habits, which are completely different than ours.
Eger: Describe your experiences working with Cuban filmmakers and crew.
Madar: It was amazing working with filmmakers who had so much experience. They were all very educated and really gave me a positive perspective on Cuba. Enrique Colina [Cuban director and film critic] is a very intelligent, sharp, and extremely entertaining person, and it is all portrayed through his films. Being able to sit with him, watch his films, and listen to his thoughts behind the creative ideas was a remarkable experience. He pushed us to explore our ideas deeply and then present the best to him. We actually had to convince him that they could work and lead to a great scene or a great film. Such creative teamwork, which respects and challenges even young filmmakers, is part of Cuban culture. It was very refreshing.
The crew was great! They made sure we had at least one English speaker among them, which made communicating with them just that much easier. They let us—the students—become the directors, give the instructions, and be involved in every step of filming.
Eger: Were there any moments where you experienced a kind of culture shock, difficult moments where you saw part of the difference between life in Cuba and the U.S.?
Bell: One of the biggest shocks was also one of my favorites. There are maybe seven or eight Wi-Fi hotspots around Havana, and it’s both difficult and expensive to connect to the Internet, even for an hour. What was really shocking was walking around the city without seeing people all hunched over their phones, walking around and bumping into one another as in the U.S.
Madar: Honestly, the biggest shock was when I went to take a shower and no water came out. Another major difference was the lack of efficiency. With a very slow Internet connection, getting information was nearly impossible. The Internet is not available everywhere, only in government offices, universities, and hospitals. While trying to change a flight, I had to stand in line for hours outside—lines are never inside the offices. Eventually, they couldn’t even tell me if there were available seats. I had to go to the airport for that.
But the thing that bothered me was the “catcalling” culture. Cuban men are not violent people at all, but they like to call women out. Cuban women are very independent and strong. In some ways, they reminded me a little of the Israeli culture. But when our cameraman, Roberto, saw that I was offended by the catcalling, he explained that it is a part of the culture and women actually like it. For the Cuban men it is meant to be a compliment for women. Apparently, if a woman is not being acknowledged enough during the day, it would actually hurt her self-esteem, and she would start wondering if she is not attractive enough— according to Roberto.
Eger: Overall, what were the most important aspects of your recent trip to Cuba?
Bell: When we first got into Havana and we saw all the old cars, and the Soviet-cement-factory style mixed with classic colonial architecture, it was a pretty huge shock. It was like traveling back in time. You know, you have all those classic Fords and Chevys, and the Russian Ladas, and everything is jury-rigged to last forever. Plus, there is a ton of beautiful graffiti mixed with old Communist propaganda.
Madar: The atmosphere is remarkable. It is a very happy culture; music is the driving factor in Cuba. Their museums are incredible, very well maintained. We filmed some children playing soccer outside. After school, full of happiness, they go to the field every day. We asked them a little about the Internet and what they know about it. Surprisingly, they all had Facebook pages, although they only connect once in a while for a couple of minutes. However, the kids were unanimous in their answer that playing soccer is way better than surfing the web. It will be interesting to see what will happen in a year or two.
Pruett: Cuba taught me many things, but overall, I was shocked by the patience of the culture. People there do not expect to be socially mobile or even make ends meet, but they are still happy. The people, no matter how many obstacles are placed in their path, patiently work to achieve happiness. People live day to day, because thinking long-term is miserable.
I consider myself fortunate to have visited Cuba before U.S. companies begin to monopolize every market down there, because I needed to see what it’s like when the U.S. rejects a nation for so long. I needed to see what my own nation was bringing upon these people, and I am fortunate to have witnessed Cuba while it still has a small island identity.
Eger: What are your plans now that you have experienced a different culture—both as a filmmaker and as an American? For example, would you like to study at the EICTV in Cuba next year, or would you like to work on a joint project with a Cuban filmmaker?
Bell: I would really love to watch Latin American movies in general and more Cuban films specifically—and steal from them. Seriously, I would be honored to work with a Cuban filmmaker.
Pruett: I would love to go back to EICTV or work on a project with a Cuban filmmaker, because I’m more familiar with Cuban culture now. Really, I would love to just meet Cuban people in general. My friend and I plan to send some goodies home to our hostel owner, because they could use some American junk food.
Eger: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Pruett: Cuba is a mysterious, seductive place with a unique culture. Its history is rich and unusual. I would love to go back and see how things will have changed in a few years.
Eger: Muchas gracias y viva Cuba, viva los Estados Unidos—y viva cooperación. Many thanks and long live Cuba, long live the United States— and long live cooperation.