by Jeremy Polacek.
As much as it is written about, participated in, and put down, revolution exists largely as an undertaking that’s watched (notwithstanding Gil Scott-Heron’s famous dictum). The revolution can be painted or sculpted, but more often than not it has been filmed, and most of all, viewed. This was already true in the early days of film: Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and other radical Soviet filmmakers turned revolutionary action into something cinematic. Lenin — he of the “for us, the cinema is the most important [art]” quote — recognized film’s ability to reach a huge audience. And in their radical path followed a somewhat infamous progeny: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Luc Godard, and many others.
Less appreciated is Cuba’s contribution to revolutionary cinema. Critical, frenzied, imaginative, and committed, the works of Communist Cuba’s first generation of filmmakers helped reinvigorate and reinterrogate the form. Drawing on Cuban history, radical politics, European filmmaking, and Brechtian ideas, they sought to excite and entertain their audiences into a new political awareness. They aimed to remind viewers that film was not a means for Hollywood escapism or distraction, but a lens through which to see the simultaneous truth and falseness of the political moment.
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