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Nicolás Guillén Landrián: A Gaze Restored (Programme 1)

The films of Nicolás Guillén Landrián (1938, Camagüey, Cuba – 2003, Miami, Florida) represent one of the most important oeuvres in post-Revolutionary Cuban documentary cinema. The first Afro-descended filmmaker to work out of the country’s national film institute (ICAIC), Landrián, nephew to Cuba’s national poet, Nicolás Guillén, directed around twenty short newsreels and documentaries from the early 1960s to the early 1970s. Landrián was committed to an irreverently personal vision, which included an unapologetic focus on Afro-Cuban life and culture. This put him at odds with the state and his films were censored and eventually banned. Landrián was twice sent to prison camps where he was subjected to psychiatric treatment, and in 1989 he went into exile in the United States.  

This focus presents four key works from the early to late 1960s, Landrián’s most creative period, recovered and restored by Ernesto Daranas. Programme 2, taking place after this screening will include Landrián (2023), Daranas’ moving exploration of Landrián’s life and work.  

En un barrio viejo

Nicolás Guillén Landrián / 1963 / Cuba / 9′ / Digital / Spanish spoken, English subtitles

After a stint at ICAIC as an assistant director, Landrián was promoted to the status of director and began making films of his own. En un barrio viejo is one of his earliest works, a syncopated mosaic of ordinary life in a Havana neighbourhood. Landrián paints a loving portrait of Cuba in miniature: its mix of races and generations, the crumbling class structure alongside the new socialism, and the syncretism of Roman Catholicism and Santería. Fidel Castro reportedly called the film “Frenchified”. 

Ociel del Toa

Nicolás Guillén Landrián / 1965 / Cuba / 16′ / Digital / Spanish spoken, English subtitles

At the suggestion of Theodor Christensen, one of his documentary instructors (the other was Joris Ivens), Landrián left Havana for the far province of Baracoa with his cameraman Livio Delgado. Of the three films they shot there Ociel del Toa is the most celebrated, a poetic and sensual meditation on rural life and the everyday rhythms of work, domesticity, and play. At the film’s centre is thirteen-year-old Ociel, plying the Toa River in his canoe; a timeless study in beauty and innocence. 

Los del baile

Nicolás Guillén Landrián /1965 / Cuba / 6′ / Digital / Spanish spoken, English subtitles

Perhaps Landrián’s most direct affirmation of Afro-Cuban identity, Los del baile is a vivid and joyous tribute to the dance culture of a people. Featuring an original “Mozambique” score by the famed composer Pello El Afrokán, the film is an immersive celebration of Havana’s musical nightlife. It was considered a provocation, during a period when the Revolution was exhorting the population to increase economic production.    

Coffea Arábiga

Nicolás Guillén Landrián / 1968 / Cuba / 17′ / Digital / Spanish and English spoken, English subtitles

Following two years in prison for “ideological diversionism” among other reasons, Landrián was allowed back at ICAIC and given his first official commission, a didactic film about coffee production. A miniature epic of Cuban colonial history and a critique of the Revolution’s failures, Coffea Arábiga is an essayistic montage of newsreel, text-as-image, repurposed images, original footage, voice over, plus propaganda and pop songs, the filmmaker’s most concentrated attempt to realise on screen the multifarious workings of his creative imagination.

This programme is curated by Jonathan Ali, with thanks to Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Luis Tejera, Juan Pablo Daranas Molina, Ana Isabel Rodríguez Fernández, Matthew Barrington, Jessica Gordon-Burroughs, and Eirene Huston. 

With an introduction by Jonathan Ali and Jessica Gordon-Burroughs 


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