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Culture, Theater and Film

romantic theater, subdesarrollo, Gertrudis Gomez, Fresa y chocolate, Los Sobrevivientes

Havana’s Teatro Principal, where Cuban audiences viewed European classical works, was inaugurated on October 12, 1776. Theatrical life developed throughout the island, and soon the so-called teatro bufo, or farcical theater, began to depict the different ethnic groups in Cuban society. Later, playwrights such as Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda and Jose Jacinto Milanes made important contributions to a romantic theater focused upon nationalism.

After independence, Cuban theater lay dormant, but by the end of the 1940s and into the revolutionary period, many small theaters emerged. Playwrights of this period include Virgilio Pinera, Anton Arrufat, Abelardo Estorino, and Jose Triana. All of these dramatists occupied posts in Casa de las Americas, Cuba’s most prestigious publishing house, and in the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists. Since the revolution, Cuban theater has languished as popular street theater replaced the formal settings. Street theater took the message of revolution to people throughout the island and often involved them in theatrical productions in order to make them feel a part of Cuba’s new society.

Motion picture making began with silent films such as La Virgen de la Caridad (The Virgin of Charity, 1930), a film about Cuba’s patron saint, who was a symbol of Cuban independence. Movies of this period glorified independence and celebrated Cuban heroism and sacrifice. During the 1920s and 1930s, Cuban movie houses featured U.S. films, and U.S. movie stars appeared in all the popular magazines. Many aspects of modernization and changing social attitudes were transmitted to Cuba through American films.

Not until the 1950s did Cuban film production compete well with the international film industry. This effort was led by motion picture director Guillermo Cabrera Infante, founder of the Cuban Film Association, the Cuban Film Society, and after the revolution, the director of the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC). Cabrera Infante went into exile in 1961 and was replaced at ICAIC by motion picture director Alfredo Guevara. The movie industry continued to flourish with Memorias del subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968), Los Sobrevivientes (The Survivors, 1979), Lucia (1969), Retrato de Teresa (Portrait of Teresa, 1979), and Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate, 1993), all of which contained messages that both praised and criticized the revolution. Tomas Gutierrez Alea directed several award-winning films, such as The Survivors, Strawberry and Chocolate, and Guantanamera (1994). Cinematographer Nestor Almendros received numerous awards, including the Academy Award in 1979 for his work as a motion picture photographer on Days of Heaven (1978).

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