EMPAC Presents Double Bill of Films Produced in 1960s Havana

Short Shadows: Memories of Underdevelopment 

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Agnès Varda
September 4, 7PM
EMPAC Theater
TROY, NY— EMPAC presents double bill of iconic films produced in 1960s Havana. Salud les Cubains (1963) by Agnès Varda and Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea both take a documentary approach in capturing Havana and its inhabitants, while producing starkly divergent fictions. The first is a joyful journalistic photo-montage shot through the lens of a master of the French experimental tradition, and the second is a feature film that firmly takes its cues form a Cuban revolutionary tactic of “imperfect cinema”.

Invited by Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográfica  (of which Tomás Gutiérrez Alea was a key member) to visit Havana in 1962, Varda left her bulky 16mm film camera behind, favoring the portability of a stills camera in order to capture the Cuban political climate. The resulting the photo montage Salud les Cubains is a lively portrait of post-revolutionary Cuba indebted in its narration to Chris Marker’s legendary work of experimental cinema La Jetée that was produced the year prior. Although a staunchly political film in its intention, it is marked by the exoticizing cultural aesthetic of European Left political cinema. Animated with over 1500 stills and edited to the tempo of Cuban music, Varda weaves recordings of Fidel Castro with an impressionistic voice-over narrated by herself and actor Michel Piccoli in a film described by the artist as “socialism and cha-cha-cha”.

Released five years after Varda’s film, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
recently restored Memories of Underdevelopment, based on the novél Inconsolable Memories by Edmundo Desnoes, is a touchstone of Cuban revolutionary cinema. Alea incorporated footage shot on location and found documentary materials into his fictionalized story of the bourgeois dilettante, Sergio, who stays behind in Havana after his family has fled the revolution. In Alea’s  words “photographs, direct documentaries, fragments of newsreels, recored speeches, [and] filming in the street with a hidden camera on some occasions, were resources we could count on and needed to develop to the fullest”. The striking black and white cinematography of this cautionary tale is an iconic example of Cuba’s “imperfect cinema”– Latin American movements of the ’60s and ’70s that emphasized deep cultural and social engagement.

Salud les Cubains (1963) by Agnès Varda
Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea 

EMPAC | Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the nation’s most technologically advanced university performing arts center. EMPAC hosts artists and researchers to produce and present new work at the confluence of human and digital space. Four exceptional venues enable audiences and presenters to inquire, experiment, develop, and experience the ever-changing relationship between ourselves, technology, and the worlds we create around us. EMPAC is an icon of the New Polytechnic, a new paradigm for transdisciplinary research and learning at Rensselaer, the nation’s oldest technological research university.

EMPAC Fall 2019 presentations, residencies, and commissions are made possible by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; and the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts. Additional project support by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship Program; and Creative Scotland.

For more information, please visit empac.rpi.edu.

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