by Jeff Meyers
A mere 90 miles from "imperial" America, Castro’s dream of a utopian society hasn’t turned out the way many thought it would. Though he delivered on his promise to provide education and healthcare to all, the toll on civil liberties and personal opportunity has been, for many, severe. Coupled with draconian economic sanctions by the U.S., it could be argued that Cubans have suffered mightily for his vision.
Documentary filmmaker and Michigan native Nicole Cattell’s timely rendering of five Cuban photographers is a poignant examination of what Cuba was and is 48 years after the revolution.
From true-believer Raúl Corrales (an official photographer and ‘companion’ to Fidel Castro) to surrealist Rogelio López Marin, who exiled himself to Miami, to Maplethorpe-esque artist René Peña, who briefly lived in the U.S. but became disgusted by its obsessive consumerism and returned home, Cattell’s interweaving personal narratives paint a complex portrait of political and artistic expression. Each has been profoundly affected by the island’s history and their stories elevate a dialogue that has for too long been limited to pro- vs. anti-Castro.
Not surprisingly, the film’s most interesting subjects — José Figueroa and Manuel Piña — are also the most conflicted in their feelings about Cuba.
Piña was an engineer in the former Soviet Union who turned to photography in the 1990s, as the full force of soviet withdrawal sent Cuban into a financial tailspin. His stark but beautiful photographs capture the underlying sadness of a dream thwarted. Figueroa, who started as Alberto Korda’s assistant (responsible for the ubiquitous photo of Che Guevara), mixes a photojournalist’s instinct with social critique. Both these men, dwell on a culture, history and identity that has been overshadowed by ‘la revolucion.’
Drenched in sunlight and ocean spray, Mexican cinematographer Chuy Chavez provides astonishingly beautiful HD images of the island’s urban landscapes and idyllic coastline. Cattell masterfully juxtaposes these against the photographers’ work, creating a compelling tapestry of emotions and perspectives.
Lyrical, intimate and thought-provoking, Cattell’s Five Visions might more appropriately be titled Revolucion: Six Visions as Castro’s reverie of rebellion and transformation inspires the artistic expressions of men forever changed by his political aspirations. Don’t miss it.