TS20: Camera Chica

“I’ve been a farmer all my life; I have nothing, but when I see my daughter standing in the centre of our village with the camera in her hand I know what it means for her future and I just want to thank you for the opportunity you bring to us.” – Angel, Campesino farmer, Victorino, high in the Sierra Maestra, Cuba

There was a moment maybe six or seven years ago when, standing by Liverpool docks, Uzma and I were asking ourselves where Threshold needed to go next. We’d been making and commissioning new work from artists and. while that was successful, we’d felt we’d dropped the ball a little on our Social Practice, one of the central pillars of our core mission; facilitating underrepresented voices in the arts to be heard. As we talked I was reminded of how inspired I was at the start of my career by Sergei Eisenstein and his radically different approach to cinema – where early American cinema was centred around the lone hero facing down evil against the odds, Eisenstein favoured the crowd, the community as hero; overcoming adversity through collective effort. Uzma and I both felt that was the missing element we were looking for in our commissioning programme; not the single voice of an outside artist looking in on society but work made by collaborative voices, rooted deep within the society itself.

In 2013, the opportunity arose to put this into action. UK Film Council’s First Light initiative, in partnership with British Council, offered us an unique opportunity to develop a project for Cuba in partnership with Suited and Booted, our sister organisation in Bath. First Light had financed some of the Social Practice work we’d done here in the UK to offer young people filmmaking experience and wondered if we could do something similar abroad.

We flew out to Cuba in 2013 to establish six media production centres across the island from Pinar del Rio in the north to Guantanamo in the south, training up community leaders there to facilitate their communities to make videos about their lives, supported themselves by 2nd year students from the film school in Havana.

Five years on, what was supposed to be a one-off experiment has become a project of international significance. We’ve now set up ten media production centres across Cuba and a further four across Venezuela. We were there at the beginnings of the Venezuelan economic crisis and it was heartbreaking to see the privation Venezuelan people were facing, and things have only got worse since, but we were warmly welcomed into the hearts of Venezuelan communities and remain in touch with our friends there. Working with the guys at Ksa la Mink’a in Caracas, reminded me of London’s Squat Art Clubs in the 80s – the anarcho – socialist principles of a community under siege were the same. Resistancia! was the rallying cry – solidarity, and small, everyday acts of sharing with the community as an act of resistance.

When Camara Chica started we knew there was funding for just one year. Not knowing where the money would come from, we made the commitment to support the project for ten years and here we are at the halfway point. In that time, hundreds of Cuban and Venezuelan young people have made films.

In Cuba, all six of the original centres have had their work featured on Cuban TV. University representatives have gone out to the communities to explain how you go about applying for university and some of the young people are now doing exactly that, and the project itself has now gathered international press and academic interest for its innovation, its success and the core values that drive it.

In 2018 we stand on the brink of exciting new developments, with talk of the project going global. This year, the National Director for Community Education in Cuba gave the project her blessing and has opened the door to the 400 community centres in her care… One of the Camara Chica team has gone out to Bangladesh a couple of times to run mobile phone filmmaking classes there… We are preparing to establish a handful of further centres in Peru…

Back in 2015 we brought two Cuban documentary filmmakers over to the UK for an exhibition of work by Cuban communities at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange and this year, following her success in obtaining a Chevening award, Yadiana, one of those filmmakers, comes to study for her Masters here at Canterbury.

Thanks to social media platforms we continue to receive films, updates and messages of friendship and goodwill from all the community leaders in Cuba and Venezuela and I know if ever I’m passing through their town I have a spare room waiting for me and friends to share a meal with.

Communities, using media tools and social media platforms are sharing their lives and thoughts with others, unmediated by the defining eye or agenda of any agency, curator or artist; it’s the epitome of our approach to Social Practice.

.Barry Hale,

Walking in Eisenstein’s shadow, September 2018