The mention of Cuba brings to mind old Buicks and big cigars, the throbbing of bongos and congas, a dancer whirling around El Floridita with a fruit basket on her head.
But how have Cubans imagined their own world?
Ann Marie Stock, William & Mary professor of Hispanic studies and film and media studies, goes behind the scenes of Cuba’s vibrant film tradition in the Tack Faculty Lecture presented at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 31, in the Sadler Center Commonwealth Auditorium. The event, “Remix and Revolution in Cuba: Screening the Island’s Transformation through Cinema,” is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception. It will also be live-streamed. RSVP here.
The Tack Faculty Lecture Series is a newer W&M tradition that enables the university and local community to come together to celebrate faculty excellence and the intellectual liveliness of the university. Through this series, a William & Mary professor addresses the community on a topic of general interest at least once a semester.
Stock has traveled to Cuba more than 60 times in the past 27 years. Among her island adventures are working with NBC News to cover the U.S. Embassy opening, dining in the Presidential Palace and weathering a hurricane. She is the author of four books on Cuban cinema, co-creator of multiple media projects and recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a 2013 Plumeri Award.
Through the lens of cinema, Stock will present a view of how Cuba’s media artists present the island’s people and places on screen. To focus on moviemaking in Cuba is to track broader cultural, political and economic issues, and Stock’s lecture promises to illuminate the island’s transformation in recent decades, plus highlight the role of W&M undergraduates and alumni.
“The second decree of the new government, after what the Cubans call ‘the triumph of the revolution,’ was to establish a film institute,” Stock said. “Think about that. The very beginning of the revolution, this point of origin, casts cinema as the quintessential cultural form that will demonstrate the accomplishments of the revolution. It will also help bring about those revolutionary values. Film and the revolution in Cuba grew up together.”
Stock’s research focuses particularly on the development of the Cuban revolution and its cinema over the past 50 years. Her most recent book, On Location in Cuba: Street Filmmaking During Times of Transition, examines the most recent generation of filmmakers, those working in the past 20 years during “the special period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It’s this time of extreme uncertainty and scarcity, and my book looks at the ways in which those filmmakers get by, make do and ‘resolver,’” she said, noting the Cuban phrase for meeting privation with ingenuity.
Stock has also evolved into a one-woman diplomatic mission since she first visited Cuba in 1989 as a doctoral student. Now an international expert, she frequently invites groups to accompany her to Cuba and speaks stateside about the country and its film culture.
W&M undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, donors and Christopher Wren classes have all touched down in Havana with her, and she’s witnessed how their idea of Cuba and its people transform over the length of the visit. Too often, she said, the perception of Cuba in the United States is largely shaped by Miami-based media, which provides an incomplete picture.
“When some travelers arrive in Cuba without a great deal of preparation, they are shocked to see how vibrant the culture is, how happy many or most Cubans are, and those who are frustrated, it tends to be about economic factors and not about political factors,” she said. “They are surprised that many Cubans on the island are exceedingly proud of the revolutionary culture they’ve managed to build. They are surprised by how easy it is to connect with Cubans, how much Cuban people and people from the U.S. have in common, despite the fact that our governments haven't, until very recently, had a base upon which to build together.”
Stock said that though the two countries have been isolated from one another and their politics have encouraged separation, art provides a nonthreatening context for people to explore.
“Culture has a space where politics may not,” she said. “By working in the cultural arena, individuals who might otherwise not want to hear anything about Cuba, who might shut down immediately, are drawn in … People will ask, ‘How could that film be made in Cuba? That film is so critical!’ These are really important entrees for talking more about Cuba, for shaping a perspective that's more nuanced.”
Currently, Stock is working on a number of projects with students from her New Media Workshop, co-taught by Troy Davis, Swem Library’s head of media services. They have recently installed 53 Cuban movie posters, from films that were never produced, in the free exhibition “Unmade in Cuba,” displayed in Swem’s Botetourt Gallery.
Workshop students also have two film projects underway. One group is recording the experience of connecting with filmmakers and others in Cuba for a new documentary. A second student documentary is based on interviews with creators at a rural Cuban community media organization. Over spring break, Stock took to the eastern provinces of Cuba 16 undergraduate students, two Swem colleagues and alumnus David Culver ’09, now a reporter with NBC4 Washington.
“The work students have done with me, connected to Cuban film, Cuban literature, Cuban art, has given them a broader vision and has helped them be more prepared to see Cuba with greater subtlety,” Stock said.
Stock is also working on her fifth book, a biography on Cuban filmmaker Fernando Pérez, whose son lived with Stock for three years when he first emigrated from the island. “Fernando Pérez is not only Cuba's best-known living filmmaker, he's also a very dear friend of mine, and there has not been a major book written on his life and career,” Stock said. “Because I know him so well, because I love him so dearly, I feel that's a project I need to do.”
A generous commitment by Martha '78 and Carl Tack '78 established the Tack Faculty Lecture Series at William & Mary. The commitment creates an endowment for the series and speakers, William & Mary faculty members who receive stipends for their presentations.