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Cuban Intellectuals Debate the Prohibition of 3D Private Cinemas on the Island

3D cinema closed down. Image by Aylin Pérez, reproduced with permission.

3D cinema shut down. Image by Aylin Pérez, reproduced with permission.

[All links in this article lead to Spanish-language content]

Ever since the official newspaper, Granma, announced the immediate ban on 3D cinemas run by the private sector, blogs and social networks have been awash with criticism.

The blog Cine cubano, la pupila insomne offers a sample of the opinions of various intellectuals and commentators, taking into account that “occasions in which the voices of those who are impacted by the measures of the higher levels of Power in Cuba are rare.” According to the blogger and author, Juan Antonio García Borrego, the measure has provoked conflicting emotions:

Primero, porque pienso en esos particulares que han hecho sus inversiones (que no son diez centavos) amparados en un texto legal que ahora los deja sin modo de reclamar. Y luego, porque no me queda claro si le medida obedece a la “política”, a secas, o si va respaldada por un estudio serio de lo que viene aconteciendo como tendencia en este universo tecnológico, asociado al consumo audiovisual.

Firstly, because I’m thinking of those private individuals who have made their investments (which are by no means small), based on a legal document which has now left them with no procedure to complain. And secondly, because it’s just not clear to me if this measure is simply kowtowing to “policy” or if it is supported by serious studies of what is emerging as a trend in this technological world, associated with media consumption.

Within the licenses that the Cuban state has granted to private businesses is the “Operador de equipos de recreación” or “Operator of recreational facilities” license, the remit of which is “the installation, operation or lease of facilities for the recreation of the public.”

The license, which excludes nautical facilities, underlines the compliance with regulations regarding security and protection of the facilities and of those using them. Nonetheless, the decision to close down all 3D cinemas is grounded on the nonexistence of a specific regulation for this type of activity, although there are no provisions explicitly prohibiting it, either. According to Gustavo Arcos, “In a situation like this, the real world dynamic indicates that one must created. If the activity proliferates and has success and a social impact there must be a reason.” In Arcos’ view:

La medida se vuelve aún más absurda cuando se sabe que para operar dichos locales, los dueños debían mostrar a los inspectores una licencia emitida desde hace varios años por las propias instancias estatales. Si el Estado se equivocó al otorgárselas bajo una figura tan ambigua, por qué deben los particulares, que tan grande inversión hicieron para preparar y disponer de sus locales, quedarse de buenas a primeras y sin mediar ningún tipo de aviso, estigmatizados, con sus negocios cerrados y enfrentando enormes pérdidas.

The measure begins to look even more absurd when you know that in order to operate these establishments, the owners must show inspectors a license granted several years ago by these very government bodies. If the State was wrong in granting these licenses under such an ambiguous premise, why should these private individuals, who have invested so much in preparing and offering these establishments to the public, out of the blue, and with no type of warning, be stigmatized, have their businesses closed down, and face huge losses.

State alternatives?

This past August, well behind its private sector counterparts, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográfica ICAIC )opened a 3D cinema in Havana, which showed films like Titanic and Nitro Circus, among others.

The very timid range of offerings by the state sector reaffirms Borrego’s concerns on the State’s potential for “offering the population, in the immediate future, an alternative to what these sole proprietors had already began to offer. To purchase the necessary equipment for all of the cinemas in the country is simply unthinkable.” The Cuban intellectual, Abelardo Mena, also wonders:

¿Qué sentirían los dueños de las salas cinematográficas en 1959 cuando les aplicaron, del día a la noche, sin interés en negociación alguna, la clausura de sus negocios? Y miren ahora, macilentos, el estado de los cines.

How did the cinema owners back in 1959 feel, when overnight, with no interest in negotiating, the closing of their businesses was imposed on them? And look, now, at the haggard state the cinemas are in.

The professor of the University of Havana, Pedro Noa, reiterates that:

es una verdad de Perogrullo, repetida hasta la saciedad, el estado deplorable de las salas de exhibición cinematográfica a lo largo de toda la Isla. En La Habana, se pueden contar con los dedos de una mano, los cines que conservan cierta dignidad.

It’s a truism, repeated ad nauseum: the deplorable state of the cinemas across the island. In Havana, you can count with the fingers of one hand the cinemas that have managed to hang on to a certain air of dignity.

In his article on the ban of 3D cinemas, he states that Roberto Smith, director of the ICAIC,

había señalado que el Instituto no estaba preparado para asumir formatos digitales que ya estaban circulando en el Mundo y que esa era una de las dificultades tecnológicas que iba a enfrentar el Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano en su próxima edición de diciembre.

had stated that the Institute was not prepared to handle digital formats which were already circulating in the world and that this was one of the technological difficulties which the Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano (Festival of New Latin American Cinema) was going to confront in its upcoming December edition.

In the light of the current situation, Noa wonders,

se imaginan (…)que en la Casa del Festival se aparezca uno de los dueños de las salas 3-D de la Capital y le diga a la Presidencia del evento: todo lo que tengan en ese formato digital, envíenmelo, que yo lo exhibo durante esos días con la condición de que me incluyan entre los espacios de exhibición oficiales… La posible respuesta, después de la Nota informativa publicada en Granma el 2 de noviembre, es obvia; pero en ese momento, la posibilidad de que eso ocurriera, me dejó pensando.

you can imagine (…) in the Casa del Festival, one of the owners of the 3D cinemas showing up and saying to the President of the event: everything you have in digital format, send it to me, so I can show it these days, on the condition that you include me in the official exhibition space…The possible response, following the Notice published in Granma on the 2nd of November, is obvious; but at the moment, the possibility of that happening has got me thinking.

State-sanctioned taste

One of the most well-worn criticisms of the private cinemas is the alleged banality of the content. According to García Borrego,

las características de las nuevas tecnologías ponen cada vez más a la mano aquella aspiración que de siempre ha tenido el público de todos los tiempos: ver lo que la gente quiera, no lo que otros le impongan.

The characteristics of new technologies increasingly put within reach the public’s long held aspiration: what the people want to watch, not what others have imposed on them.

For Abelardo Mena,

se trata, en el fondo, de una discusión sobre los modelos de gobernabilidad y/o educación social: el modelo de la escuelita (niños siéntenseeee! escuchen al maestro) o el modelo dialógico previsto incluso por Marx o Paulo Freire (una sociedad se educa a sí misma y eso incluye al partido proletario).

It’s, fundamentally, a discussion on the models of governability and social education: the school model (sit down children! Listen to Teacher,) or the dialogue model, as prescribed by Marx and Paulo Freire (a society which educates itself, and this includes the proletariat).

In his article, Mena warns:

No debe ni puede existir un consumo cultural estatalista. ¿O es que aplicaremos también el Detector de Ideologías, diseñado por Lazaro Saveedra, a descubrir- como en 1984- si nuestros dirigentes son o no reguetoneros en la intimidad de sus casas? ¿O si son suficientemente cultos para entender el acto de gobernar en sus dimensiones más profundas?.

A state-sanctioned cultural consumption cannot and should not exist. Or should we also apply an Ideology Detector, as designed by Lazaro Saveedra, to find out – as in 1984 – if our leaders are or are not reggaeton artists in the privacy of their homes? Or if they are sufficiently cultured to understand the act of governance in its most profound dimensions?

This point of view was previously tackled by Víctor Fowler, who states that:

si bien cualquier Estado tiene el derecho y la obligación de regular y normar las actividades económicas que en el territorio que abarca son realizadas, ninguno lo tiene para decidir (y esto es de lo que principalmente trata el conflicto) cuál debe de ser el consumo cultural de sus nacionales.

If the State has the right and obligation to regulate and normalize the economic activities within its borders, no one has the right to decide (and this is what the conflict is principally about) what citizens should consuming in cultural terms.

Fowler questions the demonization of a space [the 3D cinema, in this case] of a more superficial form of media consumption, which has also been fed and fueled by state cinema chains, as well as state television, with its broadcasts of US TV series and cookie-cutter programming.

Hints for the future

The majority of those involved in the debate on the ban of the 3D cinemas agree on the need for some form of regulation or provision of this activity. García Borrego adds that the great challenge is for those who think that cultural policies on the audiovisual sector should not be the terrain of prohibition and censorship (pointless steps at this stage), but of intelligent creativity that takes advantage of  technological development for the most diverse purposes.

The state should take into account the criteria of the intellectuals and Cuban citizens. Many of the harshest criticisms refer to the level of inattention to public opinion in the country. In an open letter, Víctor Fowler stresses:

El presente mensaje breve que les envío tiene que como objeto el expresar –pese a que no tenga importancia alguna para algo que ya se decidió y aplicó- mi desacuerdo con la medida.

This brief message I am sending to you is intended to express –despite the fact that it has no significance because the decision has been made and applied– my disagreement with this measure.

With respect to the role of the State, Fowler suggests that

le corresponde la obligación de facilitar una mejor educación y disfrute de la cultura realmente universales, durante la ejecución de sus proyectos esboza y presenta la meta de aquello que considera la virtud ciudadana respecto a la relación entre el individuo nacional y la cultura.

It has the obligation to provide better education and to allow for truly universal access to culture, and in the course of its projects outline and present the objective of civic virtue in regard to the relationship between the individual citizen and culture.

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