Docs

Capturing Cuba’s Character

As a general rule, Madrid-based cable/satellite broadcaster Documania does not coproduce - acquire, yes; coproduce, no. Yet, when Havana-based filmmaker Ismael Perdomo Fonseca came to Documania's managing director Maria Rezola with the idea for a series of 52-minute films on Cuba,...
June 1, 2001

As a general rule, Madrid-based cable/satellite broadcaster Documania does not coproduce – acquire, yes; coproduce, no. Yet, when Havana-based filmmaker Ismael Perdomo Fonseca came to Documania’s managing director Maria Rezola with the idea for a series of 52-minute films on Cuba, she opted to sign on as a coproduction partner rather than simply pre-buy. It was the first such arrangement in the channel’s eight-year history.

‘It was the first time we had the opportunity to work with a Cuban producer inside the country,’ Rezola explains. ‘We knew [Perdomo] because a few years ago we bought three documentaries [La Isla en Peso, Concierto Mayor and Para Bailar, la Habana] that he produced. We thought the five documentaries he proposed were interesting, because they present five points of view on Cuba. Normally you find one or two films about music in Cuba, but not the different themes that he proposed.’

The first documentary is El Cabaret Habanero (Cabaret in Havana), about the once-vibrant cabaret scene in Cuba’s capital and its recent revival. The second film, Los Anos Cincuenta (The Fifties), looks at the era in which Cuba’s music styles – including son, danzon, mambo, felling and bolero – came together. The nightlife and society of the period are also addressed in this episode. The third program in the series is Sincretismo (Syncretism), which explores the fusion of such diverse influences as Catholicism and African culture in Cuba. Museo Rodante(A Museum of Wheels), the fourth film, focuses on a large, open-air museum of classic cars that remain in everyday use, the history of these old automobiles, and the mechanics and garages that keep them on the road. The fifth doc is Un dia Despues (The Day After), which recalls the days immediately following the Revolution and speculates on the ‘morning-after’ scenario if dictator Fidel Castro was to disappear.

‘This series is simply my participation in the life of an incredibly big country,’ Perdomo says. ‘The topics are my way of seeing Cuba. [They] were not specially selected, they were desires.’

Perdomo notes that with the fifth film, Un dia Despues, he had some trouble convincing people to participate. ‘I went to the bathroom and when I returned, I had only the co-scriptwriter and the soundman. The other ones, including three future interviewees, left the project [fearing] the doc could bring them problems. a cameraman and I travelled Havana for three days with little luck, to the point where I needed to interview myself.’

To film the Cuban series, Perdomo went to Documania at the pre-production stage. Rezola agreed to come in with approximately 20% of the budget – US$2,500 per film. The total budget for all five documentaries is $63,500. Perdomo rounded out the funding with $20,000 in prize money earned by his film Para Bailar, La Habana, and contributions from two private companies (outside of the film or TV industry). Says Perdomo, ‘I wanted total freedom – which I hope doesn’t complicate the films’ distribution, since the debts are considerable.’

Rezola was pleased with the coproduction experience and the outcome of the Cuban series, but she doubts Documania will take part in another coproduction in the near future. She explains, ‘We are part of Canal+ and Sogecable. There is a division within the Sogecable group that is in charge of coproductions and productions for documentaries. They select the projects they want to

produce or coproduce and as we are part of them, we broadcast those series.’ She adds that Documania seeks acquisitions from around the globe, and offers $1,000 per hour on average.

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