Best Cuba Documentary (2007)

Casa de los Arabes

In the past year filmmakers have produced several notable documentaries about Cuba. Nat Chediak's Habana Abierta: Boomerang chronicled a Cuban rock band in exile, while Jauretsi Saizarbitoria and Emilia Menocal's East of Havana looked at inner-island democratization through hip-hop. But local filmmaker and cameraman John Maass's film Casa de los Arabes ("House of Arabs") stands out for its originality. Maass delved into unchartered territory when he followed Cuban-American belly dancer Tiffany Madera, a.k.a. Hanan, to Havana to document how she trained a group of Cuban dancers in the sensual ways of tummy twisting. Throughout the one-hour film, Maass examines the newly formed dance troupe, Grupo Aisha al Hanan, from its practice sessions at Casa de los Arabes, a Havana cultural center, to the streets of the Cuban capital, and on to dance competitions. As the women learn to transform their innate salsa-shaking rhythm into tight belly contortions, another transition takes place. Bodily movement becomes an emotional outlet in the day to day struggles of living under Cuba's tight political and economic system. At the same time the film subtly acknowledges the egalitarianism Cuban women enjoy in comparison to those in many Third World nations. Waving and spinning sheer, colorful veils around their sumptuous selves, these women explain that they're dancing for the liberation of those divas whose societies don't allow them such freedoms.

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