The experience of the outstanding filmmaker Gloria Rolando within the rigors of the ICAIC, and beyond, treasures endearing experiences as Assistant Director of notable filmmakers. Among them, Santiago Alvarez. ACN talked to the fertile documentary filmmaker about the influences of that immense creator in her way of making films.
-What was it like to research and assist in the direction of a documentary by Santiago Álvarez?
“I used to visit the third floor of ICAIC. That was the hotbed of the Noticiero (Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano). I had some friends there, and I don’t know how I got involved in two projects with Santiago. The first was the documentary related to Latin America’s foreign debt. In 1985 an immense event on the subject was held at the Palacio de Convenciones. Many political and religious leaders, social and community activists, etc. came, and Santiago decided to film everything, including the speeches. The event was over, and a few days later he called me and told me that we had to make a documentary. “Go see the Bible”, he told me”.
– The Bible? The Bible of a lifetime, or was he referring to something else?
“No, no. The Bible. He told me to look in the book about what they talked about debt and debtors. Luckily I had two or three at home. And after I brought him some proverbs, which were used in the documentary, Santiago told me that it was the European countries that plundered and razed everything we had. That it was not possible for us to pay a debt, but them. That was when he told me that it was the Gods who had been left alone. And the title came out: The Loneliness of the Gods (1985). There you realize the political commitment, the culture, the way of investigating, reflecting and knowing the reality of Santiago”.
– And how did you articulate those biblical references with the speeches of those attending the conclave?
“There comes the part of aesthetics. Look, he liked Mexican muralism very much. He makes like a symphony with all those images in the petition for justice.
That was really what the documentary was invoking: justice. It was very difficult to elaborate. When one begins to thread all those ideas, of the need to make a look not pious, but redemptive to the cause of Latin America, one discovers that Santiago used the spiritual life of the continent. He was inspired because he had a clear commitment of politics with culture. And in the editing room the magic of his temperament was revealed.
“He liked to touch the pieces of blueprints hooked on the hangers. He liked to touch them and recreate himself, placing them in order. I don’t remember the great script made beforehand, but I do remember the intuition of the kind of language with which to guide the editor. I am sure that, if one sees it again today, La Soledad de los Dioses has tremendous validity, because already at that time all voices were heard in the need for dialogue. What happened later with the arrival of the progressive presidents: dialogue and respect”.
– And Gloria’s personal experience with that creator and the realities of Cuba?
“Knowledge, commitment, language, understanding of the complexities of reality. He complemented me a lot. That’s why I say that Santiago Alvarez put a little seed in me. Then with the second project, Historia de una Plaza (1989), came another experience with other characteristics. It was a school for all of us, because I tell you, for me to enter the editing room was a privilege.
“He had a lot of tasks, trips, meetings, the Noticiero itself, which took him a lot of time, but it was done. But it was done. What was the Civic Plaza? An architectural complex necessary for Batista’s policy to look good for Martí’s centennial. La Timba and La Pelusa, adjacent to the place, and Fidel’s efforts to dignify them as Plaza de la Revolución, the Catalan church that was in the same space and that was dismantled brick by brick until it was moved to Rancho Boyeros Avenue.
I searched a lot in the archives, even Santiago put a photo of Martí that I found and that was very controversial. When they are raising the face, you can see that the eyes are covered with some protectors, but it was interpreted at the time as a blindfold that they were putting on him so that he would not see everything that the Cuban homeland had become”.
– Did Santiago ever see in you skills as a director?
“There was an attempt. I proposed to him to make a documentary about Winnie Mandela (1936-2018), a beautiful story. We even had meetings with the representation in Cuba of the African National Congress, books, music, but it didn’t come to fruition. But he did get to see my documentary Oggún: an eternal present (1991)”.
– Beyond the political commitment, Santiago Alvarez’s intuition, what was he like as a person.
“He was a banquet. With me he melted, in the best sense of the word, but with a very mischievous look. I brought my naivety and my joy to work there, and at the same time, I belonged to a generation that was very respectful and supportive of directors. Remember that we didn’t know filmmaking, and each project was a study, a class. I went with humility. What amazed me the most was to see how with very few resources I could give movement to an image and turn any music into a symphony. Today there are a lot of elements to play with the image, but what are they saying, what is the message. That was something else, the school with which I was formed.