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Eleven Minutes of Horror: Stray Animals in Cuba
April 29, 2017
Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — “Natural Selection” is a documentary which shows, in only
eleven minutes and a succession of visual cuts, the current landscape
for stray animals in Cuba.

Filmed in May 2016, it was officially shown on April 7th this year at
the Cine Chaplin, during Havana’s Young Filmmakers’ Festival, where it
received a side prize: the creativity grant awarded by the Ludwig
Foundation in Cuba.

“Natural Selection” has traveled the world in the year that it was
absent from Cuban screens. It was presented at the Ethnografilm Festival
in Paris, at the LA CineFest (Los Angeles) where it was a semi-finalist,
at America’s Rainbow Film Festival, in New York, at the Indie Wise Free
Virtual Festival…

The film’s director, Cynthia Cazanas Garin is a fourth year student at
the Facultad Arte de los Medios de Comunicación Audiovisual (FAMCA),
where she specializes in Direction of Photography for films and TV. At
just 21 years old and with a radiant face, she states that her target
audience has always been the Cuban audience.

I don’t know what we’re turning into
HT: What motivated you to make this documentary?

Cynthia Cazanas Garin: My dad is an animal protector, and it was through
him that I began to learn a little about this subject: that there is a
dog catching program, what the situation is with stray animals, the need
to create an Animal Protection Law… And when I began to research what
the current landscape is here in Cuba, that’s what made me decide to
make this documentary, and I did it with the objective to help in some way.

HT: How long did it take you to gather all the information that appears
in the documentary?

CCG: About three months. Filming as such only took a month and then, of
course, there’s the time you need for post-production, but the most
difficult thing was getting film permits to shoot at the Dog Catcher’s
and at the Public Ministry.

HT: Was that the greatest challenge?

CCG: Yes, coming up with a strategy that would allow me to bring my
camera into a place such as the Dog Catcher’s, where filming is strictly
forbidden, to get an interview with one of its managers… always with a
letter from my , which allowed me to prove that it was an
educational project.

I came to think that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but my parents
and my grandmother supported me so much, with funding the project and
also emotionally. Another of the bigger challenges I faced was working
with such little technical equipment; there was only one guy who helped
me film the shots on the street and with editing, but most of it was
directed by me: editing, photography, production, sound… everything. The
greatest risk I had was that it wouldn’t be the documentary I wanted to
make, that it would be something else, because I dared to choose a very
difficult subject matter for my final exam and I didn’t have a lot of
time. I could have even failed the year.

I also received a lot of support from my professors. The Dean in my
Faculty was always advising me, asking if I was clear about what I
wanted because it’s a subject which isn’t seen in Cuban film, and that’s
what made my documentary even more necessary. If you do a survey with
people on the street right now, many don’t know what the Dog Catcher is;
there are even a lot of myths.

HT: One of these myths is that the dogs they catch are thrown to the
lions at the Zoo.

CCG: Yes, people constantly say this and that’s because there isn’t any
infomration, and that was one of the things that helped me convince them.

HT: Is it true that strychnine injections cause animals to convulse for
45 minutes?

CCG: The person I interviewed didn’t explain anything about this, the
only thing he said was: strychnine. Just like you see in the
documentary, they have very few resources and I think that the
government should support them, finding a way for animals to die in the
least painful way possible, which would be euthanasia, according to
Animal Wellbeing laws. Even though the solution isn’t to kill them, but
to sterilize them, to create mass campaigns and especially an Animal
Protection Law, because there are things outside of the Dog Catcher’s
control such as dog fighting, for example. This law has to be created
and a different conscience needs to be promoted when it comes to
animals, creating a culture of responsible ownership.

HT: Now that you mention dog fighting, there’s a fight which appears in
the documentary and it’s one of the most violent scenes, did you take it
from another documentary?

CCG: Yes, from the short film “Por amor”, which isn’t very well-known.
The girl who made it has left Cuba now, it wasn’t even shown, and it’s
almost unedited. The title is ironic, from the dog’s point of view, it’s
his loyalty, how he is able to die for his owner. The director gave me
the rights to use this scene because it’s very difficult to attend a dog
fight, as it is an activity to some point. And I say “to some
point” because there is no law in Cuba which stops you from fighting
your dog, and that’s one of the things we are strugling for. What you
can’t do is bet.

HT: Why the title “Natural Selection”?

CCG: The title refers to Charles Darwin’s theory, but you can look at it
from two angles: from the animals’ point of view, their everyday
struggle to survive, and also from people’s points of view. As people
are becoming more and more insensitive, ignoring animal rights, not
thinking that they are living beings and how their attitude has
contributed to creating an uncivilized society. According to Darwin’s
theory, natural selections is a form of evolution but from the point of
view of civilization, it is rather a regression.

HT: How did you hope it would be received?

CCG: I always knew, and my professors always warned me: that my
documentary was going to be very shocking, because it’s a very complex
issue and because of the way I have dealt with it. I decided to put in
the scenes of cruelty because they were necessary, and I always hoped
that people would take it this way because this is reality. I wanted it
to reach them, to really move them. I have seen people who haven’t
wanted to continue watching, who cry, who leave the cinema… a lot of
times, but I don’t need to change these people’s mentality. I need those
who stay in the cinema, those who feel nothing for animals, who don’t
like them, who have never even thought about the significance that abuse
they have suffered has, while they can suffer. That was always my hope.

HT: Where has it been screened the most?

CCG: After being shown at the Chaplin, it was screened at the Academia
Dante Alighieri, where a conference about Cuban and Italian animals was
held, which had been organized by members of the Veterinary Science
Council, and it was the subject of their debate. According to what I’ve
been told, it’s also been shown at the Veterinary School. And I think
that’s great, because it’s important that young people who are studying
to become veterinarians know what is happening, that they aren’t fooled.
That they know jsut how important their job is when it comes to animals’
wellbeing.

HT: Why did it take a year for it to be officially shown in Cuba?

CCG: I don’t know. They never told me that it was censored, I was even
interviewed for national TV but the interview never came out, they never
put the documentary on either. I sent it to the Havana Film Festival and
they told me that they had too many projects. Thanks to the Young
Filmmaker’s Festival, it was finally able to be shown in Cuba.

HT: Why did you choose to study film?

CCG: In my opinion, film is what unites all the art forms and my
connection with it is very strong. It allows you to express your inner
thoughts, your subjectivity. It allows you to dream, to fly… But it is
also a very powerful weapon which transmits and controls information.
And I believe that it can be used for the good of society, of human
beings and living beings in general.

HT: So you believe that it being one of the most popular mediums, can
contribute to the regeneration of society?

CCG: It can always contribute, in a positive or negative manner. In my
case, I want to use my knowledge to change people’s mentalities towards
a new society where human values are restored. I believe that this is my
duty with film. To fight for the dreams which still haven’t been made
reality.

HT: “Natural Selection” is very hard-hitting, but it ends with a glimpse
of hope. Is this just a film technique or do you really believe this
hope exists?

CCG: I wanted it to be a blow to those who are responsible for making
this hope a reality, let’s say the government, I wanted them to see it
and ask themselves, what is this? What kind of society are we building?
Everything that is depicted in this documentary is wrong, something
which needs to be urgently changed. Hope doesn’t really lie in the
documentary; it lies in the viewer, when they finish watching it.

HT: Do you think passing an Animal Protection Law in Cuba is viable?

CCG: Viable? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s crucial. But, three
draft bills have been made and they haven’t led to anything, why? And
these haven’t been proposals that the Cuban people have suggested, but
they have rather come from experts who have studied this phenomenon, who
have presented the facts. What else does the government need? I hope
that this Law will be approved at some point; it’s what I most want.

HT: Do you know a lot of young people who are concerned about the animal
situation in Cuba?

CCG: No. I think there are very few people who are concerned about this,
and not only this, but about Nature on the whole. There isn’t a lot of
culture here of looking after the environment, I believe we need to work
more on this, educate… everything starts with . If you walk
down the street, you’ll see that the first people to throw some trash
onto the ground or abuse an animal are adults, and next to them you see
children, young people. This behavior is then reflected in their own
lives. I can’t say that there isn’t anybody who worries about this, at
my school, for example, I see some people but, how many? 3, 4, 5? What
are 4 or 5 people when we are millions? This really distresses me
because I don’t know where this will end. I don’t know what we’re
turning into.

HT: Do you believe that Cuban youth worry about the future of our country?

CCG: I don’t believe they are that interested. I wish they were! There
are a lot of projects which are led by professors, and I
would like these to be led by the students themselves. That students
themselves come together and say: “Let’s make an eco-friendly group”, or
“Let’s create an animal protection project”, but this interest, when it
exists, I don’t find it among young people. I know a group of ecologists
made up of young people and I am very happy to know they exist because
they are an example of the few people who worry about this, if only more
people would join, but they don’t receive any support either, they don’t
have the means to promote their work. I believe that every individual
can contribute in their own way, with what they know.

HT: What do you see young people interested in?

CCG: I think they live the day to day, the present. That’s what I see:
that they are a little unmotivated. They study and then they work in
something else, they don’t follow what they want, they don’t follow
their dreams, and although we have all the problems we have in society,
you can never lose the motivation to live, you have to fight for what
you want. What you want won’t turn up and knock on your door to say:
“I’m here,” you have to go out and look for what you want. What’s the
worst that will happen, that you don’t get it? At least you tried, and
you also enjoy that experience. I tried to make this documentary a lot
of times, that is to say, to get the permits I needed. However, all the
doors closed in my face but I kept on trying, until I managed to get
what it was that I wanted. You can never try hard enough.

HT: What are your future plans?

CCG: To use this creativity grant from the Ludwig Foundation to make a
new documentary that will also be about animals because there were a lot
of things that I couldn’t include in this one. I have also thought about
doing something related to animation photography, for my thesis. My
future plans are somewhat overaching… I want to continue to do what I’m
doing, to continue making films that benefit people, to change what I
feel needs to change.

Watch Natural Selection with subtitles in English.
https://youtu.be/sv252XHDgdI

Source: Eleven Minutes of Horror: Stray Animals in Cuba – Havana
Times.org – www.havanatimes.org/?p=124989

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