In I am Cuba, Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov’s take on the Cuban revolutionary experience, the great Russian director attempted to create a film as powerful as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.
Set in the mid-1950s during the Batista dictatorship, the film traverses four loosely narrated stories portraying life in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Each episode is held together by a spoken monologue beginning with the words “Svoi Kuba (My Cuba or I am Cuba)”, depending on the English translation.
Shot in luscious black-and-white and demonstrating acrobatic camerawork, the film is an exhilarating visual experiment by Mikhail Kalatozov’s cinematographer, Sergei Urusevskii, in what the director and his cameraman termed ‘emotional camerawork’ – a technique to express characters’ feelings through camera movements. The film was scripted by the Russian poet and essayist Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
I am Cuba remained practically unknown until it was rediscovered in the early 1990s. It is now considered a masterpiece of world cinema.
To book tickets for the screening of Mikhail Kalatozov’s I am Cuba at Regent Street Cinema, please follow the link below.
About the Screening
Kino Klassika is proud to present the film on 35mm with a print generously supported by Contemporary Films. The screening will be accompanied by an introduction from Michael Chanan.
I first saw Soy Cuba when I was in Havana researching a book on Cuban cinema around 1980. It has to be said that this is not a Cuban film but a Russian one. It’s ‘Cuba the exotic isle’. It harks back to Mayakovsky’s visit in the 1920s and that sort of revolutionary romanticism. The filmmakers were quite aware that they were outsiders. The cinematographer Urusevskii spoke about how they knew they couldn’t get inside their subject and decided instead to opt for a poetic vision. The script was written by Yevtushenko, a popular Russian poet working with a young Cuban, Enrique Pineda Barnet. It’s not a good script. It’s not well acted. But the cinematography is extraordinary. Urusevskii was a very innovative and daring cinematographer, and Soy Cuba is marked by high-contrast black-and-white filming which renders the sugar cane fields a searing white, replete with hand-held wide angle lens distortion, and some amazing shots, highly choreographed. Even now you say ‘how the hell did they do that!?’ This makes it very different from, say, the way that a Hollywood film would have pictured it, but also how the Cubans themselves saw it. The main influence on Cuban cinema at the time, and the New Latin American Cinema movement in general as it emerged in the 60s, was principally Italian neorealism, which meant eschewing the epic approach of the Russians which they could not themselves afford anyway. And this is one of the things that makes Soy Cuba not exactly one of the Cubans’ favourite films. Because that’s not the way they saw themselves, in that kind of highly expressionist imagery. What came out of Latin America in the 1960s was a new cinema which was essentially and fundamentally political, shared the aspirations of the revolutionary left movements of the period and was essentially anti-imperialist and socialist. The cinemas that emerged in Cuba, in Brazil, in Chile, were a shared critique of Hollywood, a critique of conventional genre cinema, and a desire to express their own cultural needs which, in the spirit of the time, meant a whole different cinema. Soy Cuba is something else again.Michael Chanan
Documentary Filmmaker and Film Scholar
Michael Chanan is a documentary filmmaker and scholar, and Professor of Film & Video at the University of Roehampton. He is the author of several books including Cuban Cinema, having first visited the island in 1979, where he also filmed several times in the 1980s. His book The Politics of Documentary was published by the BFI in 2007, and his most recent film, Money Puzzles, was released in 2016.