Stock, students enjoy 'reel' relationship with Cuban filmmakers

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It’s a universe practically no one explores, a universe uncharitably defined and underestimated by those who cling to old political paradigms, a universe that Ann Marie Stock and her crew of William & Mary students are exposing to the world, one frame at a time.

     Stock, associate professor of modern languages and literatures, first experienced Cuban cinema 20 years ago when she attended a film festival in Havana. Stunned by the passion, craftsmanship and accessibility of the filmmakers, she quickly began collecting material for her doctoral dissertation and, later, for her teaching at the College.

      But there’s more to Stock’s story -- much more -- than mere intellectual immersion. Stock has centered her professional life around every aspect of film-making on the island. She has interviewed the filmmakers, written and published those interviews, written and published reviews of their films, written and published analyses of their films. She has written a book about these films, entitled “On Location in Cuba.”

     Starting years ago with a film entitled “Madagascar” by Fernando Perez, Stock has taken their films, translated and subtitled them, made them marketable to the major film capitals of the world. She hasn’t done it alone; her students have been with her every step of the way.

      “The students were jazzed by doing something that mattered, something that had a life beyond campus,” Stock recalled. “Something that wasn’t just a paper to be filed away that only their professor saw.

     “I think it’s really important for students to think of themselves as cultural agents. By that I mean individuals who are capable of fostering the creativity of others, who are capable of helping circulate cultural expressions, be that film, poetry, video. It’s very empowering when students see themselves work with me in conducting an interview and the results of our interview are published and disseminated. To some extent -- maybe a tiny extent -- that matters for the career trajectory of artists of filmmakers.”

     Cuban writer and filmmaker Karel Ducases disagrees with Stock. He would argue that there’s nothing “tiny” about the contribution she and William & Mary have made to the propagation of Cuban cinema.

     “It’s very important to have a person like Ann Marie in the U.S., doing things for Latin American filmmakers and their works,” Ducases said via e-mail from Cuba. “I don’t know of any other person or American institution that has the kind of relationship with us that Ann Marie and William & Mary have.”

     Last February, Stock transported Ducases’ film, “Zone of Silence” back to Williamsburg from Havana. She and her students then spent the spring semester creating subtitles for it. The students had lots of questions, most of which Stock could have answered. Instead, she encouraged them to go right to the source and contact Ducases, giving them an “eminently productive learning experience” with a director.

     “(Their subtitling) was very important in the documentary being shown in other places, especially English-language countries,” Ducases wrote. “My work has now been seen by many people at festivals or exhibitions in Poland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany and Italy.

     “This is great. My documentary runs 40 minutes and has five interviews and too many comments. That makes it impossible to understand the censorship history in Cuba -- and my personal message -- if you don’t understand a word of Spanish.”

     Appreciation and support for her work were prime reasons Stock was awarded the first Reves Center Faculty Fellowship last spring, along with David Aday, professor of sociology and American studies.

 The fellowships, Stock’s for International Student-Faculty Research, Aday’s for International Service Learning, run for two years. They include a $5,000 research fund or salary stipend each year and funding of $6,000 for student support last summer and in the summer of 2010.

 “The Reves Fellow has really helped me grow this wonderful initiative that emphasizes independent inquiry,” Stock said. “Students really work towards goals they set for themselves with this research and with these documentary dissemination. It’s really helped me foster their undergraduate research skills.”

(Editor’s note: A profile and video of Professor Aday appeared here recently. See related links to view.)

 In addition to manufacturing the subtitles for Zone of Silence, accomplishments aided by the Reves Fellowship stipend include: a documentary about Ducases and fellow Cuban filmmaker Alina Rodriguez; an exhibit devoted to the photos of Gustavo Perez and displayed in the Botentourt gallery of Swem Library.

 Stock arranged to host filmmakers Gilberto Martinez Gomez and Miguel Coyula at a workshop in Williamsburg, during which Coyula filmed part of his next feature inside the Kimball Theatre. Workshop participants had the chance to position themselves behind the camera as interviewers and videographers and in front of the camera as extras. Footage from the interviews has been edited into “On Location in Cuba: Montage,” the trailer for a future documentary.

     “Many filmmakers give thanks to her for her honest help,” Ducases wrote. “She is special for her contribution to events in Cuba like ‘Festival of Young Filmmakers’ or the ‘Latin America New Cinema Festival.’ I think Cuban filmmakers respect her, her comments and her ideas tremendously because she did an exhaustive and serious investigation in order to write her book.”

     The value of Stock’s passion to W&M is incalculable. Their work is sent around the world and “when audiences are looking at this documentary,” Stock says, “at the end of credits they’re seeing, ‘Subtitles by’ and the students’ names as part of the W&M New Media workshop.”

     In addition, two students employed footage that Stock and Troy Davis, media center director at Swem Library, shot of Ducases and Rodriguez and turned it into a documentary that Stock unveiled at the 2009 Havana Film festival of New York.

     “It was a very concrete way for students to see the work they’re doing,” Stock said. “Their research disseminated important information not otherwise available. That’s particularly compelling in the case of Cuba because the relationship between our two countries has limited our knowledge of one another.”

     There are many misconceptions Americans have of Cuba. Foremost among them is the amount of censorship the Castro government places on film.

 “Often when I’m at a festival presenting work, the question is ‘How could a film that critical be made by the state-sponsored film institute?’ ” she said. “And I say, ‘There’s that one and seven more on the same subject.’ It says something about our expectations about expression in Cuba.”

Another misconception, one that irritates Cuban filmmakers, is that all of them want to defect from their country and come to the United States.

“I have invited filmmakers to come to U.S., hosted many at W&M, and Cubans are very interested in putting their work in front of international audiences,” she said. “No one has ever decided that this is where they want to stay. They tell me, ‘This is my country, the stories I want to tell are here. Why does everyone think we want to get out?’ ”

 In 2010, Stock plans to bring her student even closer to the Cuban film community. She will use the Reves funding and money from a Mellon Grant to bring a “cadre” of students to New York for the Havana Film Festival. She wants them to experience presenting their work in person.

“I made as list of goals as part of the application process (for a Reves Fellow); activities, assessment milestones, that sort of thing,” Stock said. “I’m happy to say that I and my students are in good shape as far as reaching them.”
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