To witness Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) is to witness another era, a realm that, for better or worse, no longer exists. Long, dreamlike shots trail through locations both gorgeous and destitute, offering four short stories that were meant to depict Cuban life during the early years of Fidel's regime.
The film, which opens at O Cinema Miami Beach October 2 for a limited run on 35mm, is a fascinating one. Originally created as a Soviet-Cuban production and directed by Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes Are Flying), I Am Cuba was a propaganda piece meant to glorify the country's liberation from Batista and serve as a work of art that could stand as Cuba's own Battleship Potemkin, Russia's iconic celebration of freedom by Sergei Eisenstein.
But after a not-so-great reception in Havana and Moscow, along with a lack of international screenings for the communist production, I Am Cuba ended up lost to the world until the 1990s. It was then that a print was screened at the Telluride Film Festival by Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and from there it was restored, distributed, and revered by many famous filmmakers.
"I Am Cuba is one of those rare pieces of cinema that wholly live up to all the hype and mystery surrounding it," says Kareem Tabsch, who will screen the feature at O Cinema this weekend. "Gorgeously shot, stunningly framed, and so beautifully composed that it boggles the mind that so many awe-inspiring scenes could exist in one film. Perhaps that is why when it was released in 1995, 30 years after being completed, it received the critical acclaim it so deserved and is still heralded by filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Paul Thomas Anderson among their favorite films."
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It's because of their support, along with the distributor Milestone Films, that this deliciously artistic work exists today — Anderson even payed homage to the film's indulgent rooftop pool party segment in his critical darling Boogie Nights. The beauty of I
"This is a special time for I Am Cuba and for this community," Tabsch says. "As we embark on a new era in our relations with Cuba — and with all the emotions and differing opinions that surround that — this was a perfect time to revisit this seminal work of film and appreciate it for its unparalleled artistry and for its role as a time capsule of a different time in the island nation with which so many Miamians are connected to. We're only that much more ecstatic to have been able to get a 35mm print in Spanish with English subtitles. How fortuitous that our first 35mm presentation ever is I Am Cuba."
Soy Cuba opens at O Cinema Miami Beach this Friday, October 2. Tickets start at $7.50. Visit o-cinema.org.
Follow Juan Barquin on Twitter.