Juan Pin Vilar and Fito Páez
Filmmaker Juan Pin Vilar, director of the documentary La Habana de Fito, told how the idea of working with Fito Páez arose and revealed details of the censorship and manipulation suffered by Cuban artists at the hands of the Castro regime.
“I met Fito at dawn in 1987, the dawn of the day he sings in Cuba for the first time. Pablo Milanés presents it to me. We are the same age, two months apart. We didn’t give ourselves much of a ball, but there is a great intermediate friend, Santiago Feliú. From that relationship we became friends. Whenever we have met in Cuba or abroad we have been together. It became a relationship of more than 30 years,” recalled Juan Pin Vilar in an interview with Ernesto Tenembaum, on Radio Con Vos.
As he explained, after the death of their mutual friend, both decide to record some conversations to tell their grandchildren “how their lives had been.” That material would later become a documentary.
Juan Pin Vilar had already made a successful documentary that was banned by the communist dictatorship. It was about the singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, who in one part recounts his experience with the UMAP, the Military Production Aid Units, which operated between 1965 and 1967.
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“In those units they basically imprisoned homosexuals and religious in the 1960s. Pablo had that experience and had never talked about it. He was not homosexual, but there was a Lazy Law, and they considered him lazy because he had a guitar and sang. He was not a man who went to the zafra (sugar harvest). They were like work camps. Pablo spoke about it for the first time and it was a scandal. It is a topic that has never been discussed in Cuba. A figure had never spoken, ”explained the filmmaker.
Juan Pin Vilar, Fito Páez and Pablo Milanés
Despite that experience, two years later he presented the project to compete for a fund to promote independent cinema. His idea won 100% of the votes and so he began to develop the documentary during the pandemic.
“It is a documentary made with very few resources. In Cuba due to the pandemic there was an economic effect. It was called the Reorganization Task, which instead of ordering the country’s economy, what it did was launch it towards beastly inflation. From the budget we had, the dollar was 24 to 1, it went to 80 to 1. We had to start developing our imagination, ”he assured.
The documentary includes two sections where uncomfortable issues for the communist regime are addressed. On the one hand, the execution of three young people who in 2003 hijacked a boat with the intention of escaping to Miami.
“They end up in a summary trial and are shot. They are black and very humble. That promotes 75 arrests in a single night, of the independent and dissident press. Fito agrees that he was in Havana, ”recalled the director. As a result of this situation, Fito Páez spoke out against the death penalty.
The other point was the death of Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the main leaders of the Cuban Revolution who suffered a plane accident that was never clarified. Many attribute responsibility for his death to Fidel Castro.
“There is a biased view on that. Fito does not say: ‘Fidel killed Camilo’. Fito tells the young people who led the Communist Youth: ‘What happened to this?’ And those young people jump up and say: ‘How are you going to say this?’”, explained Juan Pin Vilar.
Juan Pin Vilar
For the director, “none of these points are the documentary.” However, he pointed out that what the episodes he narrates show “the development of a thought that goes from an exercise of extraordinary freedom to an exercise of conservatism and repression.”
Finally, due to the complaints of the Assembly of Cuban Filmmakers, the documentary was finally broadcast on state television but with prior clarifications about the content.
“They accuse me of being a manipulator and then they begin to suggest that your narrative coincides with the arguments used by the CIA and the opposition to overthrow the government. It is like a mattress to criminalize you, ”he explained.
During the interview, Pin Vilar also explained other questions that he has towards the Cuban regime, for example the existence of a single party: “We have to be subordinate to that. I am not a party member, never have been. We do not have a culture of citizenship, nor do they allow us to be citizens.”
In turn, he agreed with Fito Páez regarding the blockade and its use as an excuse by the Castro regime. “I believe, as I suffer the blockade, that it is the colonial gaze of one power over another. It is ethically and morally unacceptable. But for 60 years, the economic destruction of the country, the successive years and years without solving the economic problem in any way, cannot be blamed only on the blockade. There was a time when you had strong support from the socialist camp and you did not develop it. They chose other battles. You cannot say that only the blockade is guilty of what you have not been able to solve. The fact that there is no tomato or mango in Cuba cannot be blamed on the blockade”.
When asked about the possible reprisals you could face for openly criticizing the government, the filmmaker was unexpectedly nonchalant. “I am not a man who has had a job for many years. I have been banned since 2013 ″, he finished it.
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