Unfinished Spaces (2011)
Starring: Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi and Ricardo Porro
Directed by Benjamin Murray and Alysa Nahmias
The Cuban National Schools of Art was an ambitious project born of the Cuba Revolution and the imagination of its leader Fidel Castro. Years later they were abandoned, deemed frivolous and unnecessary by the Cuban government, so they were left in an unfinished state even though classes were already underway and continued to take place for decades to follow as the buildings decayed around them.
In 1961, shortly after driving Bautista out of office, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while out and about in Havana, decide to stop in at the most luxurious of Golf courses in the city to participate in a round of “the game of the idle rich”. While failing to fall in love with the Sport, Castro did fall in love with the land and asked Che what he thought this land would do as inspiration if it were to be used to house schools of artists. And the National Schools of Arts project was born. Conceived as a five school compound (modern dance, plastic (visual) arts, ballet, music ,and dramatic arts), the project was commissioned to three architects (Cuban National Ricardo Porro and two foreigners, Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti) to design and build the schools. During the five years that the schools were initially under construction the priorities for Cuban architecture were changed under the Ministry for Construction as they decided that everything, like in their economic benefactor the Soviet Union, should be set up for mass consumption and prefabricated for easier construction. This of course flies directly in the face of the ingenious and one of a kind designs of the Schools of Art and eventually construction is forced to be ceased. During the following decades the schools remain open and still hold classes and influence artists and culture in Cuba in drastic ways, despite the buildings being unfinished and literally falling apart around them. In 2001 Fidel has a change of heart and invites the men back to finish what they started many years ago. But the hope these three men have always held that they may someday get that opportunity is always tempered with a sense of pessimism as they can never know whether the funding will be there before the government deems them unnecessary once more.
Unfinished Spaces is a fascinating look behind the curtain of Cuban politics and Art that seldom gets shown. Documents that are this critical about policies of the government rarely are allowed to come out of Cuba and this one pulls no punches in its depiction of the treatment of these schools. The three men behind the designs are fascinating characters and really drive the story along as the two men who left Cuba travel back for the first time in decades to see the decay of the buildings first hand. We even get some insight into the leader himself, Fidel Castro, as he decrees that even he himself was led astray as to the importance of the buildings, while being told by the Ministry of Construction that the buildings were an ugly disgrace, not the things of beauty he originally envisioned.
The pictures and old footage of the buildings and Castro really help to flesh out the back-story, but the film relies mainly on interviews and “talking heads” to convey the story. When the three main characters are on-screen the doc works quite well, yet some of the other people interviewed/tangents taken don’t seem to have as satisfactory a conclusion to the points being made. That said, there is more than enough historical importance on-screen here to give this film a definite recommend. If you have any interest in Cuban history/culture you should absolutely seek it out.
Unfinished Spaces is currently playing on a limited engagement at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema.
Till Next Time,
Movie Junkie TO
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