With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered what was termed the "Special Period," characterized by economic hardship, shortages, and a crisis of identity as Cuba's economic and political future was called into question. One of the outstanding films of 1991, the highly controversial black comedy Alicia en el Pueblo de Maravillas (Alice in Wondertown) by Daniel Díaz Torres(b. 1948), explored the tensions of the period using a surrealistic fantasy world as a backdrop, and taking the Cuban tradition of social satire to a new level.
Several years later Fresa y chocolate ( Strawberry and Chocolate , 1994), directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabio and written by Senal Paz, quickly became the most successful film in Cuban film history. It was nominated for an Oscar ® for Best Foreign Film and introduced Cuban film to a wider audience than it had ever had before. Foreign audiences were surprised to learn that the Cuban government funds films such as Strawberry and Chocolate that are critical of political dogmatism. Strawberry and Chocolate was followed by what would be Alea's last film, Guantanamera (1995). Guantanamera is essentially a remake of his earlier Death of a Bureaucrat , set this time against the contradictions of the Special Period. The film is a loving farewell to Cuba and the Cuban people. Alea was already dying when he made it, and the film unfolds as a personal meditation on death, even as it works as both farce and national allegory.
Fernando Pérez (b. 1944), who began his career working as an assistant director under both Alea and Santiago Álvarez, has emerged as one of Cuba's most important and original directors. Madagascar (1994) and La Vida es silbar ( Life Is to Whistle , 1998) are metaphorical, contemplative, and dreamlike films that address familiar issues—Cuban identity chief among them—in entirely new ways. His films manage to affectionately and disarmingly address the internal tensions that confront the Cuban public, including a complex inner dialogue about leaving or remaining on the island. His award-winning documentary Suite Habana ( Havana Suite , 2003), a subtly moving and candid account of a day in the life of a number of residents of Havana, met with wide acclaim and a number of international awards.
Increasingly, Cuban films deal with the ideas of leaving or returning to Cuba, and the fragmentation or reunion of families, including such disparate filmic efforts as Nada (Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti, 2001), Miel para Oshún ( Honey for Oshun , Humberto Solá,2001), and Video de familia (Family video, Humberto Padrón, 2001). This heightened consciousness of Cuba's relation to the outside world is reflected in the economic realities of filmmaking as well. Increasingly, Cuba relies on co-productions with other countries to get films made, as the economic conditions of the industry continue to be unstable.
Many fine films, both documentary and fiction, are also made independently of the ICAIC. Recent efforts, including En Vena (In the vein, 2002) by Terence Piard Somohano, Raíces de mi corazón ( Roots of My Heart , 2001) by Gloria Rolando, Un día después (The Day After, 2001) by Ismael Perdomo and Bladamir Zamora, and Utopia (2004) by Arturo Infante reflect the range of controversial topics that independent Cuban filmmakers are drawn to explore. Independent production in Cuba faces the same obstacles as independent production anywhere else: it is inherently difficult for independent filmmakers to find distribution and financing, let alone make a living as artists outside of the industry. However, with the proliferation of digital video technology, and initiatives such as Humberto Solás's Festival de Cine Pobre (International Low-Budget Film Festival), which began in 2003, all signs indicate that new possibilities of cinematic expression will continue to evolve on the island, and that Cuba will continue to make a valuable contribution to Latin American cinema.
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Martin, Michael T., ed. New Latin American Cinema, Volumes I and II . Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1997.
Pick, Zuzana M., and Thomas G. Schatz. The New Latin American Cinema: A Continental Project . Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.