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I Am Cuba (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

This 1964 film's innovative camera work immerses the viewer in pre-revolution Havana. Info

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The breathtakingly innovative cinematography of Mikhail Kalotozov's 1964 film I Am Cuba is so stunning that it could easily go head to head with any present-day Best Cinematography Oscar nominee. Through four vignettes, the film follows the struggles of Cuba’s less privileged citizens in the pre-revolution era. While plot, acting, and other film components don’t necessarily weigh down the film, they play as a conduit for the filmmakers to deliver a technical tour de force. Financed by the USSR and aided by the Cuban government to promote socialism internationally, the filmmakers were free to explore filming techniques without worrying about a budget. It doesn't take a deep technical knowledge of filmmaking to be mesmerized by the camera techniques cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky incorporates here (see the 2005 documentary The Siberian Mammoth for more about his work).

The film’s opening offers the viewer (a tourist if you will) an aerial view of the island before dropping us on a paddleboat, weaving through river traffic. After disembarking, we dodge  sugarcane leaves, patrons of a nightclub, and frolicking bodies in a resort pool. We orbit our subjects, the camera delivering intimate close-ups or shots from aberrant angles feet above or below, often in the same extensive scenes. The film’s use of prolonged tracking shots evokes the works of three-time Academy Award winner Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant), who came to fame four decades later. Directors Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola—the later two being party responsible for releasing this refurbished digital version of the film 30 years later—credit I Am Cuba as an influence upon their work. While it's common to claim that a film must be seen in theaters, it rings true in this case; go see it. —Caleb Oakley