A post by Peter Jordens.
Stephen Holden of the New York Times calls Conducta a touching, clearheaded Cuban film about Chala, a high-strung 11-year-old boy in Havana who supports his alcoholic mother by caring for fighting dogs. The movie, directed by Ernesto Daranas Serrano, examines the healing relationship between the boy and his sixth-grade teacher, Carmela, a wise, caring, surrogate grandmother, who flouts the school’s strict rules to help her students. After she suffers a heart attack, her substitute sends Chala to a “re-education” school, a decision Carmela vehemently opposes, because it would be a black mark on his record. The children, their teachers and their parents represent a lively cross-section of contemporary Cuban society. In Cuba, the film has become something of a phenomenon since its January 2014 premiere, with audiences crowding cinemas to see the film and even official government newspapers praising its exploration of difficult themes such as the risks children are exposed to because of social and economic conditions, education, responsibility, morality, lost values and manners.
Andrew S. Vargas of Remezcla recently interviewed Daranas and asked him about his career, filmmaking in Cuba and, of course, Conducta. The original interview is at http://www.remezcla.com/2014/latin/ernesto-daranas-director-of-smash-hit-conducta-on-making-films-in-cuba.
What is your professional background? How did you end up making films?
I studied Geography but never practiced the profession. Before graduating I had already begun to write and direct for radio, theater and television. I came to film in 2008 thanks to a fund for low budget projects. That’s how I made my first film Los Dioses Rotos [Broken Gods].
Cuba is a country with a strong cinematic tradition. How do you think you fit within that?
The truth is, I’m not entirely sure. The two films I’ve made take place in the impoverished areas of Old Havana, which is the neighborhood where I’ve always lived. They are very personal themes for me and that determines how I approach the subject matter. But in general, I think Cuban cinema has shown a marked concern for social issues which has given us some of our most important works.
What do you think is the importance of film in a country like Cuba?
It’s almost impossible to conceive of a country without images that express it. Cuba is not an exception.
What specific challenges do you confront when producing a feature in Cuba?
Every possible challenge, but perhaps the most serious of them has to do with the absence of a film statute that structures, foments and defends our cinema in all of its aspects.
Could you talk about the process of fundraising for your first film, Los Dioses Rotos?
Los Dioses Rotos was a selected by the Ministry of Culture for a low budget film fund. In the actual execution of the project, the ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute) and Altavista Films became involved. The biggest difficulty we confronted had to do precisely with the lack of resources we had available.
After Los Dioses Rotos, what brought you to Conducta?
The same social concerns regarding the area where I live, this time having more to do with childhood and the role of the educator in impoverished areas. It started as a film workshop that I was able to share with a group of students from the film department at the Superior Institute of Art (ISA), and the creative exchange with them turned out to be very productive, as well as the exchange I had with the children who act in the film, none of whom had previous acting experience.
Do you feel that there are new tendencies or a new generation of filmmakers that are coming of age in Cuba?
I think so. The important thing now is that they be given more opportunities to work and develop themselves professionally.
Conducta has turned into quite a social phenomenon in Cuba. Did you expect this type of reaction? How does it make you feel?
I didn’t expect it, at least not to this degree, and of course it makes us all very happy.
Now that Conducta is traveling – first to Guadalajara and now to New York [Havana Film Festival New York, see our previous post Cuban Cinema in New York, A 55-Year History] – what hopes do you have for the future of the film?
It was really well received in Guadalajara and in Málaga we won several prizes. These have been two really nice first steps that, beyond the prizes, tell us that the film can be shared with a broader audience. As for New York, we’re very happy that our principal actors and our casting director can be part of this festival.
Finally, what are your plans for the future?
Fight to make the stories that I’m interested in filming. Right now I’m prepping Pink Smoke, which is a somewhat zany comedy that flirts with the western and magical realism.