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Showcasing Films by Cuban Women

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For the first time, a group of women filmmakers from Cuba are showing their films in the United States, beginning in Los Angeles, on March 8, International Women's Day.

Fiction films about a housewife trying to help stray dogs and learning to help herself, an immigrant in Europe telling her daughter back in Cuba about her new life, and a man trying to write a poem while his wife complains about the heat and his son watches a R-rated movie. Documentaries about jazz and friendship, exhibitionism and the life before and after the revolution of a 95-year-old Cuban woman, María de los Reyes Castillo Bueno, whose grandmother was abducted by slave traders.

“I loved making that movie,” acclaimed director Marina Ochoa said in Spanish about her film on the warm and feisty Bueno, "Blanco Es Mi Pelo, Negra Mi Piel" ("White Is My Hair, Black Is My Skin"). “She’s a black woman who was born in Cuba from slaves and I interviewed her because I wanted to show the history of Cuba through the history of a woman. I totally fell in love with her doing this project.”

That film, along with more than 20 others are part of the Cuban Women Filmmakers Showcase in Los Angeles, New York and Miami this March – the first time a group of Cuban women have come to the United States to show their films. Ochoa, the head of the Cuban Women Filmmakers Mediatheque, will come to the screenings and take part in Q&As and panel discussions along with award-winning filmmakers Gloria Rolando and Milena Almira, and acclaimed film and theater actresses, Claudia Rojas.

Ochoa, who says she always wanted to express herself through documentaries, looks forward to coming with these women “to make visible the work of these talented filmmakers,” and meeting with the Americans who do what she does. 

“We can exchange experiences and discuss the problems that affect us as women directors,” she said. “There’s the possibility of getting to know one another and sharing ideas.”

Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, an honorary host of the event (others include actresses Susan Sarandon and Annette Bening and director Lisa Cholodenko), values this type of cultural exchange.

“It’s an important affirmation of their work,” she said about the showcase. “I always want to support Latina women doing something creative."

Ruby Lopez co-chairs the Women In Film International Committee, which has partnered with a whole host of other organizations, including the Cuban Women Filmmakers Mediatheque, the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC) and the American Cinematheque, to bring the filmmakers to the three U.S. cities.
Lopez’s organization wants to broaden people’s horizons beyond Hollywood. She appreciates the aesthetic and the personal stories being told in the films in the showcase, she says.

"The Seamstress ("La Costurera") "is a very pretty movie and the visuals are beautifully done,” said Lopez, who enjoyed the animation in this short film, being an animator herself. “It’s one of my favorites.”

Lopez also mentioned Ochoa’s documentary on Bueno and another documentary by Claudia Rojas, "Derecho de Ser" ("Right to Be").

“It focuses on a single character telling her most personal and most painful experience,” Lopez said. “It’s almost like a one-woman show in a field of sunflowers. It’s about expressing yourself and setting yourself free. It’s done in such a creative way – almost like spoken word.”

On March 8, to celebrate International Women’s Day, the series will launch at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. There will be screenings in L. A. through March 12, then in New York March 13-17 and in Miami March 18-25.

Leslie Fields-Cruz handled the programming in New York City. Fields-Cruz, the VP of operations and programming at the National Black Programming Consortium, got involved after she met Luis Notario, the producer/coordinator of the showcase at the Trinidad/Tobago Film Festival. When he told her the filmmakers were coming to L.A., she wanted to make sure they went to other cities.

“I have an interest in making sure that people of color and women’s films are seen in the United States,” she said. “I’ve been to Africa and Korea for these types of things and there’s nothing like artists being able to talk about their work. That exchange of information and stories gets me excited.”

Producer Laura Bickman ("Che," "Traffic"), another honorary host of the showcase, has found that exchange in her trips to Cuba. She has been going there since 2001 to do research for her films.

“Cuba has such a wonderful rich cultural community with incredible musicians and artists and writers,” Bickford said. “Filmmaking there has a very strong tradition.”

Bickford said the filmmakers who have hosted her in Cuba have shown great hospitality and she looks forward to returning the favor. Because of the U.S. embargo, Cuban filmmakers have been isolated and they could use help, she says. 

“Being a filmmaker is just hard no matter what gender you are,” she said. “They are Cubans who found a way to make their voice be heard, which is hard in first world county. It’s amazing what they’ve done.”

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