p dir=”ltr”>Panel 7, June 1, 2011, 11:00 am-12:30 pm
Moderator: Lynn Shirey, Harvard University
Presenter: Alexandra Halkin. Americas Media Initiative
Rapporteur: John B. Wright, Brigham Young University

Alexandra Halkin is a documentary filmmaker and founding director of the Americas Media Initiative-Cuba Media Project, a new initiative to distribute Cuban independent and community videos in the US.

Halkin indicated that university librarians have helped get a lot of these films distributed and then noted having directed Living Juarez. Halkin discussed the real resistance to President Felipe Calderón’s policies on the war on drugs. She then explained having had no production money, just money for research. This is an advocacy film. Halkin noted that she would like to work in Juárez to create a feature film, but that is not possible because of security issues in protecting the film crew and the characters (the groups of youth).

Living Juarez looks at the events and aftermath of events in the Juárez neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar where in January 2010, a group of youth attending a birthday party were brutally murdered. Calderón characterized the youth as gang members. The outraged families personally confronted Calderón at public forums in Juárez during his visits to the city after the massacre.

Living Juarez tells the story of the real victims in Calderón’s Drug War: regular people just trying to survive in a city overrun by senseless violence and corruption. The neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar is organized and speaking out against the arbitrary and frequent abuses that are committed by the armed forces against civilians and particularly the youth in Juárez.

Questions & Comments:

Anne Barnhart (University of West Georgia) asked “How do you produce films?” Halkin replied “Filmmakers get 60% and we get 40%.”

Martha Mantilla (University of Pittsburgh) asked “What about the safety of the people who appear in the documentaries? Will they be at risk?” Halkin responded, “I don’t produce any video of someone who can be at risk.”

Halkin next presented two episodes of TV Serrana that was founded with funding from UNESCO, the Cuban government, and the National Association of Small Farmers. These episodes cannot be sold via the Internet.  TV Serrana is a television project that has helped rural Cubans in the Sierra Maestra Mountains produce nearly 500 documentaries since 1993. The idea is to show people a vision of Cuba that they’ve never seen before.

We watched an episode called “The Four Sisters.” It was made in 1997 and lasts 15 minutes. It tells the story of four elderly Cuban sisters who are still living in the home of their parents. Each sister plays a role in maintaining the home and the livelihood of each. They take care of one another.

The next episode was called “¿Adónde vamos?” It was made in 2009 and lasts 20 minutes. It is very controversial. TV Serrana is able to present a critique of Cuba in Cuba. The director of this episode grew up with TV Serrana. She is now its famous director. It tells the story of farmers who grow loads and loads of fruit. They pick it, bag it, and prepare it for shipment. The bags of fruit sit by the side of the road, ferment, and rot waiting for government transportation to pick them up for distribution. The farmers are feeling quite cynical, wondering what is to be done.

Questions & Comments:

Barnhart asked “How has this evolved?” Halkin answered, “UNESCO started the series and it is now quite a good model for what is happening with good television programming in Cuba.”

John B. Wright (Brigham Young University) asked, “Has the exposure of some of these problems in Cuba helped anything change?” Halkin replied, “TV Serrana has been an advocate for communities to government officials. Transportation to market of food produced in the country is still a very big problem, but at least the people feel they have been able to communicate some of their grievances to the government.

Laura D. Shedenhelm (University of Georgia) asked, “Looking at your list of products, I see prices. How do you do invoices? We don’t do purchase orders.” Halkin replied “Most items are prepaid.”

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