The Fool on the Hill –

Introducing Films by Nicolás Guillén Landrián

Drawing on my research and projects in Cuba recently and my ongoing interest in experimental film, I would like to begin with Arsenal's extensive collection of Cuban films. The archive houses prints of important films from the past 50 years of Cuban filmmaking, most notably from the first 30 years after the 1959 revolution. DE CIERTA MANERA by Sara Gomez, Santiago Alvaréz' NOW!, or POR PRIMERA VEZ by Octavio Cortázar, to name but a few, can be counted among the groundbreaking films of the 20th century not only in Central America but all over the world.

However, the Arsenal archive does not claim to be complete in any sense, and archives live through growing. With this proposal, I want to suggest a film / project about or in connection to a Cuban filmmaker who is not in the archive – Nicolás Guillén Landrián. The idea is to work with other filmmakers in Cuba and in 16mm on this project that would try to examine the formative years of Cuban cinema, the formats used, the way people worked with (and in parallel to) the revolution, the attempts to educate by bringing film to remote villages. Moreover, I would like to promote the inclusion of Landrián's films in the Arsenal archive.

During my discovery of Nicolás Guillén Landrián, whose work has been overshadowed in the past three decades in Cuba, I thought he would be a welcome "expansion" to the archive. Landrián is one of the most interesting Cuban filmmakers in what could be called "experimental documentary". Working at the same time as famous filmmakers such as Santiago Álvarez (mentioned above) and within the same framework (i.e. the ICAIC – Instituto Cubano de Arte y Industria Cinematográficos), he developed a language of film that comprised hard-edge editing and juxtapositions of text and image. However, in contrast to those filmmakers who praised the revolution, he used a poetic language to develop an image of the country's new national consciousness and also included critical aspects in his best films. At some point, Landrián was accused of inappropriate behavior, and sent to a labor camp, where he developed psychological problems. He was then given electric shock therapy. He left for Miami in the early 1980s and died in 2003.

During his time in Cuba, Landrián made several short films that seem to reflect the situation of the filmmaker and his relation with the state. After all, he was able and allowed to make films from 1962 to 1973 despite being charged with various disciplinary offenses. The message and formats of his films differ widely, ranging from the experimental to the "well-behaved" didactic films. The "well-behaved" didactic works are very interesting not only because of their content but as signs of the relationship between auteur and state in the "grey period" that lasted from 1970 to 1975 and was only then beginning. But Landrián and his films have rarely been mentioned in publications by external experts such as Michael Chanan's "Cuban Cinema". Recently, his name appeared on the ICAIC's website in what might be seen as sign of a recent "opening"?

"The Fool on the Hill" is the name Paul McCartney gave in 1967 to both the song and to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom the Beatles had met and admired in India. A year later, the song made it into a film by Landrián, who used it as background to images of Fidel Castro. This caused displeasure and conflict (albeit perhaps the result of a misunderstanding (but whose?). This title could provide the starting point for a film that wants to look with fascination and critical distance at the way Cuban society found itself quite literally "interwoven" into the visual format most embraced by the new government.

Alongside the work with Cuban filmmakers such as Juan Carlos Alom the project will seek support from existing connections to the EICTV (Escuela International de Cine y Television) and the ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos).

Finally, one might think of making Landrián the subject of a small screening / conference, which would include contemporary reflection on his work and the idea of "revolutionary film" and "artisticfilm" in general.


Biography of Florian Zeyfang