Cuban DVDs

"It isn’t often that Cuban filmmakers get the opportunity to showcase their work in the United States. The Americas Media Initiative provides one of these rare opportunities. Cuba—not the diplomatic juggernaut familiar to US audiences, but rather its landscape and people—come to life in this collection: its landscape in the form of a silent man and his mule's forlorn crossing of the Sierra Maestra (La isla eterna); its sports and gender issues (Grandes ligas?) its politics in the voices of artists, authors and musicians (Zona de silencio); its Afro-Caribbean religious practices (ALAbbá).

These films introduce the viewers to compelling and profound characters, emblematic of life in Cuba when the iconoclasm fades back and allows daily life to run its course. We thus meet Lency, a rural Cuban McGyver whose ingenuity knows no limits (Un puente sobre el rio), and Freddy Ilanga, a retired neurosurgeon born and raised in Africa, and brought to Cuba after serving as Che's Swahili translator in the era of Cuban support for Congolese rebels (El traductor del Che). Freddy's story, as well as those of Russian and Eastern European women spirited from the Soviet Union to Cuba by their love for visiting Cuban students (Todas iban a ser reinas), showcase the particular 'intermestizaje' brought about by Cuba's unique political trajectory in the twentieth century."
Julia Sweig, Former Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow and Director, Latin America Studies and Global Brazil Initiative Council on Foreign Relations


Rethinking Cuban Civil Society: Something Deeper than the Truth

Directed by María Isabel Alfonso

37 minutes / 2019 / Spanish with English subtitles


A young man in a baseball cap with “MIAMI” emblazoned on the front sits on a curb, looking at his phone. Beside him, an older man looks over his shoulder at the screen. Other Cubans sit on the curb or on the steps behind it, staring at their phones and tablets. In Cuba, a scene like this would have once been unthinkable. But since 2015, the government has loosened the rules on Internet access, allowing citizens to go online with their devices (for a fee) at designated WiFi hotspots.

The spread of online access—and people taking advantage of it for activities like blogging about politics and culture—is one of the signs of a renewed interest in bolstering Cuban civil society. But Cuba faces unique challenges in bolstering citizen engagement.

Near the start of RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY, the film offers a definition of its central theme. “Civil society: The aggregate of non-governmental organizations and individuals that manifest the will and interests of citizens.” Then, on the screen, the word “non-governmental” is crossed out. It is a striking visual illustration of Cuba’s unique situation—one in which the public sector dominates much of society, playing an ambiguous role in civil society institutions.

Since the mid-1990s, Cuba has seen a rise in independent media, and a resurgence of movements fighting against racism, for economic justice and LGBTQI rights, and for greater democracy and citizen participation. In RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY, Cuban academics, journalists and bloggers, and writers and musicians grapple with what it means to encourage healthy public participation and dissent in the context of Cuba: a country under embargo in which foreign-funded dissidents seek to overthrow the government, and at the same time a country in which the Communist Party has placed itself above the State.

In city parks and apartments, on stairwells, in classrooms, and in magazine offices, the people featured in RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY grapple with these questions. Can more competitive elections and greater democracy exist in a one-party State? How can LGBTQI activists successfully influence government policy? How can access to the benefits of economic reforms allowing private business be extended to marginalized populations? Can the government help encourage a healthy, independent media eco-system? And how much of the stifling of civil society can be blamed on the embargo and how much is simply home-grown?

Thoughtful and engaging, the film is conveniently divided into chapters on class and activism, media, Internet and the blogosphere, political opposition, and Cuban civil society across international borders. 

“There are few accounts of Cuba that focus on the broad and growing outlets of citizen participation that seek to change the society from within. RETHINKING CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY is a rare and accomplished film that showcases varied voices from the alternative media, blogosphere, LGBTQ, feminist, and anti-racist movements of Cubans who seek to preserve the gains of the revolution while voicing their critiques. This film should be seen widely.” —Sujatha Fernandes, University of Sydney



The Unique Story of Unlucky Juan

A film by Ricardo Figueredo Oliva

52 minutes/ 2016/ Spanish with English subtitles

An independent film financed through crowd-funding and without the financial support of traditional Cuban film institutions, THE UNIQUE STORY OF UNLUCKY JUAN is a comprehensive, accessible examination of the particularities of the Cuban economy. Using a fictional worker called Juan as an example, the film shows how the economy affects the daily lives of ordinary citizens – and how badly it squeezes those who don’t have access to hard currency.




December Days

A film by Carla Valdés León

45 minutes / color, 2017/ Spanish with English subtitles

Delfin, a shirtless old man in a New York Yankees cap, proudly fingers the medals on the military uniform hanging on the wall of his small home in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba. The uniform belongs to his son, one of more than 400,000 Cuban soldiers and civilians sent to Angola between 1975 and 1991 in support of the country's left-wing government. Two thousand of them were killed. Three decades after he served, Delfin's son remains troubled by trauma.

DECEMBER DAYS shows some of the ways in which the mission to Angola—a massive solidarity effort from a small country—touched the lives of ordinary Cubans. We meet an elderly woman who lost both her sons (one expresses happiness "to be fighting for the oppressed peoples" in a letter home), veterans who live in wretched housing and feel forgotten, an award-winning journalist who covered the war, and an archivist who goes to great lengths to identify individual Cubans in photos from Angola.

Interspersed with propaganda footage of the mission, old documentaries, and scenes from the 1984 Cuban soap opera Something More than a Dream, DECEMBER DAYS is a poignant film about a nearly forgotten episode that marked a generation of Cubans and their families.


Código Color, Memorias (Color Code, Memories)

Directed by William Sabourin O’Reilly

30 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles, 2015

CÓDIGO COLOR, MEMORIAS (COLOR CODE, MEMORIES), explores the complex issue of racism through the memories of the picturesque city of Santiago de Cuba.

CÓDIGO COLOR was initially made for Cuban youth who are unfamiliar with the history of racism in pre-revolutionary Cuba. The film is meant to be a catalyst to provoke discussions about the racism of the past and how this past still affects contemporary Cuba.

The film approaches the subject from a new perspective using a powerful visual language. Color creates the narrative flow, combined with eloquent archival images, CÓDIGO manages to transport the viewer to the 1950’s, a decisive period in Cuban history.

CÓDIGO interweaves paradoxical and sometimes emotionally searing stories of people who lived through this period with simple physics and artistic theories about the colors that surround us. As human beings, how do we perceive color and how does it affect us? How have interracial relations evolved during the formation of our society?

In these complex times, CÓDIGO COLOR offers a unique prism on our past, helping us to understand the ways we see, judge and appreciate our relationship to color, and the color of skin.



TIERRALISMO: Stories From a Cooperative Farm

Director: Alejandro Ramírez Anderson
49 minutes, 2013
(Spanish with English subtitles)

Tierralismo is a beautiful film about the Alamar "organiponico" (organic coopareative farm) located outside of Havana. The organiponico was organized in the 1990's during the height of the Special Period in Cuba. Tierralismo contains interviews with many of the members of the cooperative who share their stories about how they got there and what the organiponico has contributed to their community. This Alamar organiponico is world-renowned, many specialists in organic farming, agricultural students and investigators visit the farm throughout the year.

Environment, Space, Place Article



Director: Marcelo Martín
42 minutes, 2012
(Spanish with English subtitles)

The new Cuban documentary ELENA follows several residents in the "Elena" building, located in Central Havana, over a three-year period. ELENA is one of the first contemporary investigative documentaries made in Cuba about a serious social problem that affects many Cubans.

Since 1988, following a decision by the government to demolish the bathrooms and kitchens of a wing of the building, the inhabitants of Elena still await the needed repairs. They are experiencing an alarming deterioration of their property along with the social degradation that has affected their daily life. Threatened by an imminent collapse of their building these residents are also victims of endless broken promises by the government. Some await a miracle while others have adapted to coexist with misery, where even death doesn't scare them anymore.


Major Leagues?

(¿Grandes Ligas?)
Director: Ernesto Pérez Zambrano
27 minutes, 2008
(Spanish with English subtitles)

The members of the Cuban National women's baseball team discuss their passion for their sport and the trials and tribulations of participating in Cuba's "national past-time" in a society that is filled with machismo, prejudice and daily hardships. The older generation of women who participated in the League in the 1940's talk about the sexism they dealt with and how generation after generation women still face the same attitudes from men about their participation in the sport.


Cuban Animations from the Young Directors Film Festival

(Spanish with English Subtitles)
These eight short animations have been screened at the Muestra Joven (Young Directors) Film Festival in Havana, Cuba. The Festival began in 2001 and is recognized as the most important showcase for young cinematic talent in Cuba. Cuban animation is world renown and even though many of these young animators don't have access to the latest technology they are still able to produce interesting, provocative and aesthetically beautiful works.

  • 8 Formas de Enfermar / 8 Ways to Get Sick (Leandro de la Rosa), 4 min., 2009
  • Como Desaparecer completamente /How to Completely Disappear (Harold Rensoli), 3 min., 2009
  • El Traje / The Suit (Abdel and Adrián de la Campa), 5 min., 2010
  • La Revancha / The Revenge (Ivette Ávila), 3 min, 2009
  • Tic Tac / Tick Tock (Alien Ma Alfonso), 6 min., 2008
  • Niños imaginarios / Imaginary Boys (Alien Ma Alfonso), 4 min., 2010
  • La Costurera / The Seamstress (Ivette Ávila), 6 min., 2010
  • Comunidades Modernas/Modern Communities (Lester Harbert Noguel), 3 min., 2008


New Comedy Shorts from Cuba

(Spanish with English Subtitles)
Dany and the Nerds Club
Director: Victor Alfonso
25:37, 2010
A comical animation on the universal theme of the nerdy guy in high school falling in love with the beautiful girl and how his goofy friends try and help him win her heart.

Committee 666
Director: Arturo Infante
17:12, 2010
A hilarious look at the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) #666, a Satan worshipping CDR where it’s members are in preparation for the arrival of the anti-Christ who is searching the world for a virgin bride.



A Bridge over the River (Un Puente sobre el Rio)

Director: Rigoberto Jiménez, Spanish with English subtitles,
30 minutes, 2009
In the middle of Cuba’s central mountains lives Lency, a man with no limits on his inventiveness and creativity – he has a solution for everything – the lack of transportation, electricity, domestic labor, etc. He is a regular family guy but he does things a little bit differently, figures out ways to deal with daily problems and helps out his neighbors in tough times.




Directed by Eliezer Pérez Angueira, Spanish with English subtitles, 40 minutes, 2010
Alabbá looks at the fascinating history of Santería and how its historic roots have transformed into a contemporary religion in modern day Cuba. Alabbá focuses on three women of African descent who arrived in Cuba in the 19th century, tracing their influence on the development of Santería. The documentary includes interviews with current practitioners and historians.



Zone of Silence (Zona de Silencio)

Directed by Karel Ducasse, Spanish with English subtitles,
40 minutes, 2007
Five Cuban intellectuals that live on the island, a filmmaker, a musician, two writers and a university professor, discuss censorship as a historical, political and social phenomenon. Their discussion is about the limits that this scourge has provoked in artistic creation throughout time and throughout the world. Interviewed are: Fernando Perez, Filmmaker; Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Poet and journalist; Fran Delgado, Musician; Antón Arrufat, Playwright, writer, journalist; Gustavo Arcos, Film Historian and critic.



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The Infinite Island (La Isla Infinita)

Director: Rigoberto Jiménez, Spanish with English subtitles, 2011
A peasant takes a long and difficult journey over the mountains of the Sierra Maestra to buy a new mule, a absolute necessity for his life and fundamental part of his identity. This is a journey that has been repeated for generations. This is a journey that often transcends its original purpose and becomes a metaphor for describing a process, time, the never- ending search. Filmmaker Rigoberto Jiménez mixes documentary and fiction to tell this enduring story of life in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba.



Freddy Ilanga: Che’s Swahili Translator (Freddy Ilanga: El Traductor del Che)

Director: Katrin Hansing, Spanish with English & French subtitles, 24:00 minutes, 2009
In April 1965, Freddy Ilanga, a fifteen-year-old Congolese youth, became Che Guevara’s personal Swahili teacher and translator during the latter’s secret mission in the Congo to train anti-Mobutu rebels. After seven intense months by Che Guevara’s side, the Cuban authorities sent Freddy to Cuba. During his early years, Freddy thought that his stay in Cuba would be temporary. However, 40 years passed, during which time he lost all contact with his family and homeland. That is until 2003, when he received an unexpected phone call from Bukavu, his home town. His family had finally found him…
‘Che’s Swahili Translator’ is a documentary about Freddy Ilanga, an African man whose life was abruptly transformed through a chance encounter with one of the great icons of the 20th Century, and which has predominantly been determined by the power struggles of the Cold War and the Cuban Revolution. It is a story about migration and displacement and the high human costs of exile and family separation.