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Jul 16, 2007

Missing Habana


"I wonder why, Habana, I still run away from you, if I know that I'll come back... days goes by and I can't write you, but I can't stop thinking about you either. Your streets still smell revolution. People smile despite all. Talent and passion given off from your paintings provoke me the most beautiful dreams. Here, in El Globo at the Santa Isabel terrace, I try to find a refuge in the open air, with the beautiful bay absorbing me. And while I taste this mojito I understand that nothing is coincidence; I arrived to the most touristic spot in the city to connect myself with my roots over there, far away, where I believe I belong to. Although every day I belong a little more here, a little more there..."

I left Argentina three years ago. Beyond my personal goals, and without comparing my story with any other story of new desired frontiers or exile, it is a fact that I live far away from my beloved land. Any long experience abroad, no matter if it’s good or not, carries some kind of melancholy. When I visited Cuba something happened inside me. Some kind of strange love took over me, as if Habana has some kind of special soul still latent… as if I belong not only to Argentina but also to every Latin American country.

Camila Guzmán Urzúa arrived Cuba in 1973 with her family after his father Patricio Guzmán, a famous documentary filmmaker, left Chile threatened of execution. He used to say that a country without documentaries was like a family without photographs. More than thirty years later she followed her father' steps to make her first documentary. Camila enjoyed her childhood growing up in the golden years after the Cuban revolution. Along with her friends, they were provided by the state with healthcare, a good education, housing, jobs and a few free meals a day. They were part of the generation of pioneers played innocently without leaving aside a proud responsibility: to build up the new Cuba. But the fall of Berlin’s Wall and the Soviet Union around 1990 introduced the well-known “special period” in the country and a path downhill. Camila left Cuba and moved to France. It was a very different journey than her father, but it was probably an equally difficult decision.

In 2005 Camila returned to Cuba to make The Sugar Curtain (2006, original title El Telón de Azúcar). In this documentary with the support of EICTV at San Antonio de los Baños (the legendary film school where Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Greenaway were among other visiting filmmakers), she contrasts the country of her childhood dreams with the present in decline. Between testimonies, photographs, old and new footage, and a meticulous recollection of friends, the film sadly depicts not only an impoverished country but also a whole lost generation now living abroad spread around in many countries. With her own narration she takes the main role and control of the project, also co-producing, co-editing, shooting and of course writing and directing. Such an intimate portrait has her stamp in every stage of the process, and this a fundamental point that it is visible during the whole piece: it isn’t a documentary about the golden era vs. the present from an objective point of view but from Camila’s own experience. Far away from a debate about Cuban history or the exclusive truth, this is a very personal memoir, and that’s one of the most compelling elements.

Nevertheless, this is also a film that couldn’t be possible without all her friends, most of them still in touch with her. They remember the old times with a mix of bitterness and happiness, they talk about Cuba today, they share their anecdotes. They revisit many places; they are present even through calls or videos sent from other countries. Among all they recreate this witness, which is also a lament for the end of that dream. For Camila Guzmán Urzúa a new dream comes true through the realization of this film, and another dream could be realized if she can show her film in the Habana International Film Festival the next December. She still misses Cuba, her sugar curtain. She luckily lived the best part, and unfortunately lived the worst. I also still miss the island, and I was there only two weeks. For many persons it’s about a curtain. For others it’s about sugar. For some people a radical change is urgent. For other, the “Vamos bien” sign (we are going well) near the José Martí International Airport is an example. In any of the sides, the feeling is strong.

"Today more than ever I realized that my crying is not about pity but about happiness; it's also about helplessness: For my dear ones who are not present when I travel and enjoy, when I grow up alone. For all the people still waiting. They are not happy today, probably they won't... ever. When something is chosen, other thing stay further. Nevertheless I still travel, I still choose. I will live you again, dear Habana; mulata posing for me, land exciting me. Today I say goodbye with bitter melancholy, and although this desire brushes agony, I continue traveling, I continue choosing. I am already suffering you, I am already loving you."

(Written for Cinema Tropical)

The Sugar Curtain (El Telón de Azucar)
Writer and Director: Camila Guzmán Urzúa
Spain/Cuba/France, 82 min.
In Spanish with English subtitles

Starts Wednesday July 25, One Week Only!
The Pioneer Theater
155 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A & B)
(212) 591-0434
But tickets now

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