From: [Jon Hillson]
Sent: Tuesday, August 06, 2002 12:02 PM
With Cuban director 
Humberto Solas in Los Angeles

[While other Cubans were denied visas to attend the Los Angeles International
Latino Film Festival, noted Cuban director Humberto Solas, whose film
"Miel para Oshun" won a top award, was permitted to fulfill his invitation.

[This report describes how a timely initiative by Cal State LA students enabled
him to reach broader audiences. Los Angeles Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba.

From left to right: Cuban director Humberto Padron, whose "Video de Familia" screened at the festival,
Miel Para Ochun director Humberto Solas, and Puerto Rican director Jose Garcia, at the festival. 
(Photo by Walter Lippmann.)


by Jon Hillson

LOS ANGELES, August 3 (NY Transfer)--The spontaneous initiative of two Latino students here, combined with the legendary accessibility of Cuban emissaries, resulted in rich encounters between renowned Cuban film director Humberto Solas and diverse audiences here July 31 and August 1.

Solas, a pioneer of the Cuban film industry and the director of the landmark 1967 movie "Lucia," was here to show his latest work, "Miel para Oshun [Honey for Oshun]," at the ten day Los Angeles International Latino Film Festival, which concluded July 29. The film would win the coveted "Audience Award."

"The lights went on and I realized I was sitting next to him," Maria Elena Cortinas, a graduate student at California State University at Los Angeles, told a predominantly youthful audience at the campus. "I was speechless," she said, so she asked fellow graduate student Jimmy Centeno to say something to Solas. Centeno asked him to speak at the school, and the Cuban director quickly agreed. The two were among 35 students and faculty who recently returned from a two-week exchange program between the university and the Center for the Study of the United States in Havana.

They, and other activists, moved rapidly to organize the meeting, sponsored by the Latin American Studies Department, the LAREGLO Project, the Latin American Society, and the Cuba Study Organization. A standing-room only crowd of 100, most of them students and many of them Latino, attended the July 31 meeting.

Solas showed portions of "Lucia," and described an effort by Cuban filmmakers to sponsor an international festival for low-budget films -- "Festival de Cine Pobre" -- in Gibara, Cuba in November. He spoke and fielded questions for more than an hour, sitting and addressing the crowd in a casual, conversational manner. While his achievements lend confidence and authority to his presentation, Solas is modest about himself. He is frank, droll and clearly enjoyed a dialogue that unfolded in an atmosphere of palpable solidarity.

Solas said his new feature film, which describes the story of a 35-year-old man who returns to Cuba after being raised in the United States by a father who told him he'd been abandoned by his mother -- a lie -- as "an odyssey of discovery, and of identity. It is about the coming together of Cubans."

"There is," he said, "real, genuine pluralism in Cuban cinema," which began "with the revolution itself. There never had been Cuban cinema before 1959."

Within the revolution, a great diversity of views on style, theme, and approach coexist. "There is less centralization [of deciding how movies are made] than before," he said. "There are those who still hold dogmatic views, those of 'socialist realism,' the ideology developed in the Soviet Union during the Stalin period. There are those with more open views, broader views, experimental ideas. There are young people doing all sorts of new things. Today, there is truly an independent cinema in Cuba." Solas is on the national commission of the Cuban Cinema Industry Institute (ICAIC).

The event also provided an opportunity for activists working in defense of the Cuban Five -- Cuban revolutionaries imprisoned in U.S. penitentiaries on frame-up espionage conspiracy and related charges -- to brief the audience on Washington's latest outrage against the jailed patriots. On July 25, Adriana Perez, wife of Gerardo Hernandez, was forced to return to Cuba upon arriving in Houston, despite having a visa from the U.S. Department of State. "We're delighted that Humberto got to Los Angeles," one activist said. "This should make us more determined to fight to make sure the families of these political prisoner get in to see them."

After the gathering, on his way through the campus to a late dinner with students and faculty at a Mexican restaurant, Solas noticed numbers of passing mexicano, Latino, and Chicano students. "It is like being in Latin America here," he noted.

Publicity for the university meeting got the attention of John Connolly, national president of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA). A working actor, he invited Solas to his home for breakfast the next day, after which he showed the Cuban director, along with Latino film festival chief Marlene Dermer, the national union's headquarters.

There, Solas was the featured guest of a hastily prepared reception attended by 40 people. Among them were several working television and movie actors, including singer-actor Theodore Bikel, local union officers, and working and staff members of its organizing committee, whose focus is to win collective bargaining rights for employees of Telemundo. This Spanish language network was recently acquired by NBC, but continues to resist union organization that would bring its substantially lower-paid workers to parity with their AFTRA-represented counterparts at NBC.

"As you know, there has been a blockade of the island of Cuba for many years," Connolly told the reception, which impedes collaboration between U.S. and Cuban actors. Solas, he said, "comes here artist to artist, and friend to friend, as a great artist and a great friend."

The AFTRA president linked this breaking of barriers to the union's campaign at Telemundo, organized and led by "a membership committee at the network to win the same wages, benefits, and dignity" as their colleagues at NBC. AFTRA activists presented Solas with union regalia after each made a brief, personal introduction, some in Spanish.

"I know we have come together as a result of long struggle," Solas said. "If we end this embargo [of Cuba] we will finally be able to work together," he said, to a burst of applause.

"I am a Cuban author, I like working in my country, I like living in my country, and I want to live in my country. But I do have one wish: to break the blockade, to defy the embargo, and be the first Cuban filmmaker to make a movie in the United States," he said, to another round of applause.

After the presentations, Solaspaused during informal discussions with actors, writers and union activists to tell a reporter that the evening and morning events -- the campus meeting, a dinner, a breakfast, and the AFTRA gathering -- "were like being in an extension of my home. I encounter tenderness, care, and there is no prejudice towards my country or my people. It is a marvelous sensation."

All because a couple of students asked the right person the right question at the right time.

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