“There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A
Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2016 – He has a Polish last
name, a first name of Hebrew origin, and Venezuelan blood running
through his veins. Jonathan Jakubowicz is as complex and versatile a
filmmaker as the skein of influences that make up his family tree. Born
in Caracas in 1978, the director has received both pressure from the
government of Hugo Chavez and the most resounding applause from his
audience. This December his film Hands of Stone will be shown in Cuba
during the Festival of New Latin American Cinema.
The film, based on the story of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran,
includes in its cast the fellow Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez, in the
starring role, and the Oscar winner Robert de Niro in the role of his
trainer. Jakubowicz responded to questions from 14ymedio about his
expectations on presenting his work to a Cuban audience, and his
reaction to the exclusion from the festival of the Cuban film Santa y
Andrés, by director Carlos Lechuga.
Sanchez. During the Havana Film Festival of Havana Cubans will be able
to enjoy your film Hands of Stone, one of the most interesting films
that will be screened in this year. How can viewers on the island inform
themselves before seeing the story of the legendary Roberto ‘Mano de
Jakubowicz. I think that Cubans feel the story of Duran as their
own. Duran is the son of an American Marine who was assigned to the
Canal Zone and who had an affair with a Panamanian, and then left. The
relationship between the boxer known as Manos de Piedra and the United
States is complex starting from his birth. But paradoxically it is only
thanks to the help of his gringo coach, the character played by De Niro,
that he becomes world champion and beats the United States boxing idols
on the biggest stages in the world. It is a Latin American epic, filmed
mainly in Panama but with Hollywood legends. I am sure Cubans will enjoy it.
Sanchez. You’re aware of the censorship of the film Santa y Andrés,
directed by Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, and even thought of
withdrawing Hands of Stone from the Festival, in solidarity with that
filmmaker. Why have you kept your film in the Festival line-up? What do
you think about the exclusion of the Lechuga’s film?
Jakubowicz. Cuba and Venezuela are sister nations, not only in our
history but in our political present. When my first film came out,
Secuestro Express (Kidnapping Express), the Chavez government charged me
twice and published in the state media all kinds of information to
discredit me. Only someone who knows what it is to be persecuted because
of his art can understand the pain that means. That is why it affected
me so much to read about censorship being applied to this Cuban film.
I felt that going to the Festival to show my film would be a hypocrisy,
like when I saw international filmmakers photographing Chavez while I
was being persecuted. I was afraid of becoming that dismal figure of the
artist who supports the repressor, a very common figure in our
countries, and one that has done great damage to our people.
But Cuban filmmakers themselves asked me not to withdraw my movie from
the program, because the festival is one of the few windows left on the
island to see the outside world, and so I decided to do it. At the end
of the day I don’t live in Cuba and the only thing I can to do is help
those who do live there.
Sanchez. You’ve experienced first hand harassment within your own
country. How do you experience all those pressures?
Jakubowicz. With much anguish and sadness. My film was not even against
the government, but was made by people from all social classes in
Venezuela, and the success filled Chavez with insecurity, because his
power was always based on dividing the population. On attacking us, he
attacked our invitation to overcome the problems we have as a society,
but also made it impossible for me to continue making films in my
country. So I am filled with admiration for Cubans like you, like Gorki
Aguila, El Sexto and others who dare to stay in the cave of repressor to
do battle for freedom from within.
I just published a book, Las Aventuras de Juan Planchard (The Adventures
of John Planchard), showing the corruption of the Chavista revolution in
all its glory. It is my grain of sand in this fight. There are people
who ask me if I’m not afraid to publish it, and my answer is that if
there are people in Cuba and Venezuela who put their lives on the line
daily for freedom, the least I can do is support them with my art.
Sanchez. What do you think of the relationship between cinema and power?
Between artists and official institutions?
Jakubowicz. Cinema and power have always been related, the problem is
when those in power repress some filmmakers, and welcome and support
others. There is nothing worse than an artist who collaborates with a
repressive government. To put your sensibility at the service of a power
that persecutes human beings who want to express themselves like you do
is a contradiction which, in my opinion, annuls you as an artist and
makes your work into propaganda.
History is full of talented artists who have done that and ended up
persecuted by the very machinery they supported. Generally those who
remain cozied up to power forever are mediocre, they would have no
capacity for transcendence if not for the help they receive as payment
for their complicity.
Sanchez. In Cuba, as of more than three years ago, a group of filmmakers
has been promoting a Film Law to gain autonomy and protect their
work. What would you recommend to your colleagues on the island in that
Jakubowicz. In my opinion they should focus on creating methods for
their films to be viewed online. Just as there are now journalistic
spaces coming out in Havana and reaching everyone, create spaces for
local filmmakers to put their work on the internet. Almost all
filmmakers in the world are doing works that are exhibited on the internet.
Even Woody Allen is making a series for Amazon. No one can underestimate
the power of the internet as a tool for the distribution of independent
cinema of the future. I find it commendable that they are trying to pass
this law, but in my experience art cannot beat authoritarian governments
with laws. They can be conquered with art. The laws were not made for
Source: “There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A
Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez – Translating Cuba –