Three months later, in what was to be its first cultural act, the revolutionary government created a national film industry, called the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). At its inception ICAIC dedicated itself to producing and promoting cinema as a vehicle for communicating the ideas of the revolution, recognizing film as a medium for education and seeking to provide an ideological alternative to the powerful media machine of Hollywood.
Cuba's most widely known and beloved director, Tomárrez Alea (known in Cuba as "Titón"), earned a law degree at the University of Havana while concurrently making his first films. He went on to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, and the influence of Italian neorealism is evident in El Mégano (The charcoal worker), a film he made in collaboration with Julio García Espinosa in 1955 after returning to Cuba. El Mégano had a seminal role in the beginning of the politicized movement known as New Latin American Cinema, taking its place at the forefront of attempts by Latin American filmmakers to explore the potential political impact of the medium on social issues close to home.
A fervent supporter of the 1959 revolution, Alea was one of the founders of the Instituto Cubano del Arte e (la) Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). His substantial body of work describes the nuances and contradictions of everyday life in socialist Cuba. Alea spoke frankly about the reality of the Cuban revolution with all of its idiosyncrasies, citing the importance of intellectual critique in ongoing social change. His films address complex political realities, an absurdly convoluted bureaucratic process, and the persistence of reactionary mentalities in a society that had rededicated itself to the fulfillment of progressive ideals.
The warmth, vitality, and complexity of Alea's films challenge the stereotype of communist cinema as rote propaganda. Alea called for a "dialectical cinema" that would engage the viewer in an active, ongoing conversation about Cuban life.
He explored a wide range of genres and styles throughout his long career, making documentaries, comedies, and historical and contemporary dramas. His historical pieces Una Pelea cubana contra los demonios ( A Cuban Fight Against Demons , 1972) and La Ú ltima cena ( The Last Supper , 1976) are among the finest examples of Gutie Cuba's many notable films in the genre. Alea's comedies Las Doce sillas ( The Twelve Chairs , 1960), La Muerte de un burócrata ( Death of a Bureaucrat , 1966), Los Sobrevivientes ( The Survivors , 1979), and Guantanamera (1995) affectionately poke fun at the bureaucratic lunacy of the Cuban political system and the resilience of bourgeois values, making full use of the strategies of social satire and farce in doing so.
Alea is best known for his films Memorias del subdesarrollo ( Memories of Underdevelopment , 1968) and Fresa y chocolate ( Strawberry and Chocolate , 1994), which share the distinction of being the most acclaimed Cuban films to date. Memories of Underdevelopment chronicles the ruminations of a politically unaffiliated middle-class intellectual who becomes increasingly alienated from his surroundings after the triumph of the revolution, but lacks the conviction to leave Cuba. Strawberry and Chocolate was the first Cuban film to receive an Academy Award ® nomination for Best Foreign Film. Set in the 1970s during a period of ideological conformity, the film concerns the friendship between a flamboyantly gay older man and a politically militant university student. In Alea's treatment of the historical period, it is the militant student who undergoes a profound emotional transformation and comes to understand that the eccentric iconoclast is in fact the real hero.
Las Doce sillas ( The Twelve Chairs , 1960), La Muerte de un burócrata ( Death of a Bureaucrat , 1966), Memorias del subdesarrollo ( Memories of Underdevelopment , 1968), La Ú ltima cena ( The Last Supper , 1976), Fresa y chocolate ( Strawberry and Chocolate , 1994)
Schroeder, Paul A. Tomas Gutierrez Alea: The Dialectics of a Filmmaker . New York: Routledge, 2002.
In 1960 the magazine Cine Cubano was founded, sponsored by ICAIC, and it remains one of the primary sources of film criticism and analysis by Cuban authors, chronicling the emerging history as it unfolds. Initially, great emphasis was placed on developing a visual record of the revolutionary project, and ICAIC focused on producing newsreels and documentary films in the early years. These films were used to disseminate information about new initiatives such as agrarian reform and Cuba's
massive literacy campaign. Por primera vez ( For the First Time , Octavio Cortázar, 1967), which chronicles the beginnings of Cuba's mobile cinema movement—in which cinema was introduced into rural areas that had previously been without electricity—is one of many examples of the high quality and emotional resonance of early Cuban documentary filmmaking from the first decade of production after the revolution.
In a country known for its innovative documentary films, Santiago Álvarez distinguished himself as Cuba's best-known documentary filmmaker during his long and prolific career. Using only minimal equipment and concentrating the bulk of his efforts toward adapting the strategies of Soviet montage to his own agenda, Álvarez created an enduringly powerful, unsettling, and innovative body of work, including the films Ciclón ( Hurricane , 1963), Now (1965), Hanoi, martes 13 ( Hanoi, Tuesday 13th , 1967), LBJ (1968), and 79 primaveras ( 79 Springs , 1969), among others. Álvarez explored themes of anti-imperialist struggle in many of his finest works, leaving behind a polemical and hard-hitting filmic legacy that has influenced subsequent generations of Third World filmmakers.
Lesser known but of critical importance, the lyrical and haunting documentaries of Nicolás Guillén Landrián (1938–2003) show evidence of an original cinematic voice. The thirteen films he made for ICAIC, including Ociel de Toa , Reportaje (Reportage, 1966), and Coffea Arábiga (Arabica Coffee, 1968), have rarely been seen, although there was a revival of critical interest in his work shortly before he died in 2003.