Santiago Álvarez (1919 – 1998) has been characterized by historian, George Sadoul as “A man whose work always fundamentally highlights the impact of its images,” and christened by the British film critic, Derek Malcom as, “the maestro of the moviola.” I could not agree more. In my opinion, Santiago Álvarez, a filmmaker who took this path thanks to his “mysterious intuition,” a phrase coined by his collaborator Rebeca Chávez, left a historical legacy of classical documentary films such as Now! (1965), Ciclón [Cyclone] (1963), Hanoi, martes 13 [Hanoi, Tuesday the 13th] (1967), L.B.J. (1968) y 79 primaveras [79 Springs] (1969). The predominant stylistic trait of his prolific work – which he called documentalurgia [documentalurgy], was an extraordinarily rhythmic mix of visual and auditory elements taking advantage of all the means available to him (historical documentary footage, still photos, images from fiction, animation, posters…) and adding a dose of irony and satire to get his message across.
On a personal level, I believe that his unique signature was to preserve as much as possible of the original interview – something seriously abused by documentary films today – while giving free rein to his unstoppable imagination, as well as possessing the ability to unite very effective teams of collaborators, especially of photography, sound and editing. I second the notion that “documentary film is not a minor genre, as is sometimes thought, but an attitude towards life, against injustice, before beauty, and the best way to promote the interests of the Third World.” The 20th Havana Film Festival of New York pays tribute to this fundamental creator with a brief selection of his vast work.
1965 | Black & White | 6 min
Production: ICAIC | Director: Santiago Álvarez | Photography: Archives | Music: Song, Now! performed by Lena Horne | Editing: Norma Torrado, Idalberto Gálvez | Sound: Adalberto Jiménez
An experimental montage of newsreels and photos pertaining to the struggle of black North Americans against racial discrimination.
MI HERMANO, FIDEL / MY BROTHER, FIDEL
1977 | Color | 17 min
Production: ICAIC | Director: Santiago Álvarez | Script: Rebeca Chávez, Santiago Álvarez | Photography: Iván Nápoles, Raúl Pérez Ureta | Music: De archivo | Editing: Miriam Talavera | Sound: Jerónimo Labrada
This film chronicles Commander Fidel Castro’s interview with country farmer, Salustiano Leyva, who bore witness to the rare visits of José Martí and Máximo Gómez to Playitas.