The tendency in Cuban film historiography to ignore the pre-revolutionary legacy has obscured a wide range of non-commercial cinematic activities, including a significant body of work created by amateur filmmakers. Like many nations across the Global South, during the first half of the twentieth century the island lacked a sustainable and exportable model of commercial film production and distribution. And yet, long before the establishment of the Cuban state film industry, non-professional filmmaking performed multiple functions, from serving as leisurely activity, to providing experimental terrain, training ground, and path to professionalization. In this talk, I will explore the importance of this aspect of Cuban film culture, in particular through reconstructing the national and transnational networks of amateur cinema that connected Cuban amateur filmmakers with their peers, both locally and internationally. I will also assess the complex relationship of amateur filmmaking communities to the post-revolutionary state-sponsored film institute (ICAIC). Uncovering the work of resourceful amateurs who found ways to make films during the 1960s and 1970 through ingenious alliances and great perseverance, I argue that nonprofessional filmmaking represented an embryonic possibility of autonomy in an otherwise hegemonic industry with strict ideological priorities. The inventiveness and ingenuity of their continuous attempts to work outside of institutional frameworks offer a clear historical example of the irrepressible character of amateurism. Those energies continue to find expression in the alternative media practices of today.
Irene Rozsa is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at Tulane University’s Center for Latin American Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Film and Moving Image Studies at Concordia University, where she was awarded the Governor General of Canada Gold Medal for outstanding dissertation. Her work, supported by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier doctoral scholarship, has been published in Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas, and in the edited anthology Cosmopolitan Film Cultures in Latin America, 1896-1960. Dr. Rozsa is currently working on a book project based on her dissertation “On the Edge of the Screen: Film Culture and Practices of Noncommercial Cinema in Cuba (1948-1966)”, which focuses on film education, cine-clubs, and amateur filmmaking in Cuba during the transition from the pre-revolutionary to the early post-revolutionary period. Funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, she conducts postdoctoral research on the project “The International Catholic Office for Cinema in Latin America: Comparative Perspectives,” which examines the impact of Catholic film education. Her current research expands her interest in non-theatrical film distribution and exhibition to investigate parallel circulation channels and reception contexts for films, including digital media spaces.