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Interchange – Televising the Revolution: Cuba in Film and Fiction


Our show tonight features two well-known Cuban artists: contemporary novelist, Leonardo Padura, whose fictional detective Mario Conde has been introduced to an even wider audience now through the Netflix miniseries Four Seasons in Havana. As it was shot on location it gives viewers a feel for what our guest Anke Birkenmaier terms the “actually existing Havana”; and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, also known as Titón. Specifically we’ll look at two films that speak directly from within the heart of the years just after the Revolution, and his penultimate movie which confronts the dangers of the doctrinaire where love and attraction are concerned.

Our music throughout is by Los Van Van. Formed in 1969 by Juan Formell, Los Van Van fused son, montuno, and rumba with North American rock, later incorporating funk, disco and hip-hop as well as salsa. Formell died in 2014 but the band remains Cuba’s most popular dance band.

Part One: Hardboiled Cuba
In 2016 Netflix produced Four Seasons in Havana, a miniseries based on a quartet of crime novels published in the 1990s by Leonardo Padura. It’s a Cuban-Spanish co-production with original footage from Havana and and Cuban actors. When is a crime fiction more than the artful deployment of genre elements? When it’s set in Cuba and written by a Cuban.

Part Two: Filming from Within
The films of director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, a life-long member of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, are hard to find in the United States. But Titón, as Alea is called, produced one of the 20th century’s great films, Memories of Underdevelopment which deals with an intellectual trying to find his place in post-revolutionary Cuba after having lost the economic geography that formed his identity. We’ll also discuss the Chaplinesque and Kafkaesque Death of a Bureaucrat and the 1993 film Strawberry and Chocolate, an anti-authoritarian film made by a personal friend of Fidel Castro

Anke Birkenmaier is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University and Director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She’s the author of The Specter of Races: Latin American Anthropology and Literature between the Wars (University of Virginia Press, 2016), and co-editor, with Esther Whitfield, of Havana Beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings after 1989 (Duke University Press, 2011).

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea profile in Senses of Cinema
Tomas Gutierrez Alea: Memories of Underdevelopment
Private Eyes” (New Yorker profile of Leonardo Padura, 2013)
Anke Birkenmaier: Latin America Scholar (profile in Bloom Magazine)
Cuba Initiatives at Indiana University

All songs by Los Van Van
“La Habana sí”
“Llegue, llegue”

A special 90-minute Interchange focusing on Orson Welles in his less-appreciated role as an innovator in the WWII-era radio feature, a genre of radio mixing fact and drama that is a (largely forgotten and unacknowledged) forerunner of the radio documentary, as we know it now. Michele Hilmes joins us to discuss what the radio feature was, why it arose, and what its role was in WWII, and how it relates to Welles’ signature style and concerns. We’ll feature selections from Welles’ Hello Americans and Ceiling Unlimited, programs which were official, government-sponsored propaganda.

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer and Editor: Rob Schoon
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford
Photo: The Livrophage

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