The International School of Film and Television
By: Idania Machado Photos: José Tito Meriño
December 1986 brought a special present for a group of young Latin American people: the creation of the International School of Film and Television in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. Wide horizons were opened to them and to generations to come. The dream of many members of the Latin American Filmmakers Committee came true with the founding of a high quality school that would train professionals to strengthen and promote each participating nation‘s movie industry.
The school, an education project of the New Latin American Film Foundation — an institution presided over by Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez — had as its first goal the training of young people from Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia in the audiovisual media of movies, television, and video. It was for these three regions that the institution earned the nickname, the “School of Three Worlds.”
Cuba provided the headquarters. A boarding school in a town called San Antonio de los Baños, 35 km southwest of Havana, somewhat isolated but with enough peace and tranquility for this type of facility. After renovations for its new function were finished, the new School was inaugurated by its first Director, Argentinean ﬁlm director Fernando Birri.
Once the utopia became real, many people started to contribute. That included donated materials along with visitors giving seminars and talks with the students to pass along the many things they had learned from their old careers.
Many important movie personalities have visited the school through the years as visitors or teachers. They include Hungarian ﬁlm director István Szabó, French screenwriter and actor Jean—Claude Carrière, Greek ﬁlm director Costa Gavras, Italian Ettore Scola, Britain's Peter Greenaway, Ireland's Jim Sheridan, Americans Francis Ford Coppola, Gregory Navas, Robert Redford, and Estela Bravo,
The Canadians include Glen Cairns, Barbara Chula, Oscar Fenoglio, John Greyson, Juan Carlos Herrera, Susan Martin, William Niven, Naomi Wise and, quite recently, sound technician Douglas Ganton. All of them are renowned in the movie industry.
All these efforts have started to bear fruit at several film festivals around the World. Cuban ﬁlm director Arturo Sotto has produced three movies and has been winning prizes since his time as a student. Wolney Oliveira from Brazil has also directed movies in his country but the greatest achievement, so far, of a former student belongs to Spaniard Benito Zambrano who has been praised with awards in different festivals.
During the I993 Cannes Film Festival, the School was awarded the Rosellini Prize honouring persons or works embodying the spirit of progress, generosity, and humanity that characterized director Roberto Rossellini.
Movies are an expensive art form and its creators must take into account not only their artistic intentions but the potential of being proﬁtable. Schools in and for developing countries are very expensive and can only succeed with the greatest of efforts. There have been changes to the school through the years but it has not lost the spirit of solidarity that it was built on. The school has also broadened its spectrum accepting students from the European Union.
Students have the privilege of ﬁlming their theses in 35 mm while other schools use only 16 mm. A great deal of money must be invested into the equipment since it wears out or becomes obsolete.
In the first year all types of specialty lessons are delivered: editing, sound, photography, scripts, documentaries, directing, and producing.
There are also workshops dealing with ﬁlm history, art history, introduction to audiovisual art and industry, cinematographic theories, and Latin American films. The first year ends with a 3 minute ﬁlm on 16 mm.
During the second year there is less variety in the subjects and the final semester is completely dedicated to the chosen specialty. Workshops include a panorama of documentaries, documentaries and television, history and techniques of documentary language, and a documentary exercise on Betacam video. Of course, practice never stops.
Finally, the third year is for the pre-thesis and the thesis. Throughout the life of the program, the average student receives classes delivered by hundreds of teachers in half a dozen languages. International workshops are very important and are delivered throughout the year by highly qualified specialists.
One of the first decisions of the school was to appoint former students to the position of school Director. Now for the first time, as writer Garcia Marquez has suggested, a Woman is in charge of the school. Dominican Tanya Valette, editing graduate from the school's first class will lead the school for the next two years. She was formerly working at the Dominican National Film Board.
The school has changed, for example, it is no longer completely free. Now studies have to be paid for but, still, the cost is not even 40% of student’s expenses over the three years. The average fee is US$ 12,000 for the first two years with the third year being free. Study materials, meals, transportation, and lodging are included in the cost.
Luckily, there are several countries that pay the tuition for their nationals at the school so as to strengthen and in some cases create movie industries in their countries. This measure was essential for the school to survive with the economic and political changes of the late 20th Century.
“My dream is that those days could return since, for example, we don‘t have students from Asia or Africa,” says Valette.
Almost all of the students think that the best aspect of the school is the people. Its teachers, personnel, services, and administration staff must work closely to ensure that everything runs smoothly. There are sports facilities for basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Other facilities include a cafeteria, store, laundry 24 hour medical services, a video and book library, gym, pool, photo lab, TV studios, and international phone services.
Cuban critic and researcher Luciano Castillo, head of the school's media library, tells us that their library is the largest repository of Latin American cinema in the region. There are movies from other regions as well and the library has become a gathering place for researchers. Each year the library assists people looking for information for their theses and other projects.
When talking about the school, we also have to talk about the town where it is located. San Antonio de los Baños has a long movie tradition as well as hosting a Biennial International Comedy event.
Our future audiovisual artists have a home in Cuba where their dreams are tumed into images for the world to see.