Since the Cuban Revolution, the nation's cinematic history before 1959 has been under lock and key, virtually unknown to the public and film scholars both on and off the island.
That's set to change beginning this week, as the UCLA Film & Television Archive embarks on a partnership with the Cinemateca de Cuba, the national film archive, to study, preserve and showcase the country's pre-revolutionary cinema.
The collaboration comes as part of UCLA's ambitious research and exhibition project "Classic Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles (1932-1960)," which aims to explore forgotten film traditions of Argentina, Mexico and Cuba, and to illuminate Los Angeles' history as a hub of Spanish-language cinema.
Funded in part by the Getty's "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative," the UCLA archive is also working with Mexico's Cineteca Nacional and the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires.
Teaming with the Cinemateca is particularly notable because, as its director Luciano Castillo said in a recent phone interview, "This is the first time in history that an institution from this country — or any in the world, really — collaborates with Cuba in preserving the legacy of Cuban cinema pre-1959."
Castillo, a film critic, researcher and historian, said pre-revolutionary Cuban movies often took the form of comedies, musicals and melodramas, many inspired by theater traditions and radio soap operas. Such films, he said, represent "the idiosyncrasies of Cuban culture."
Through the partnership, Castillo said, UCLA and the Cinemateca hope to not only restore and preserve Cuban films for scholarship purposes, but also to bring them to new audiences.
The timing for the project would seem to be fortuitous too, as the U.S. and Cuba have recently begun to normalize diplomatic relations after 50 years of acrimony.
"Classic Latin American Cinema in Los Angeles (1932-1960)" will culminate in a three-month screening series beginning in October 2017, followed by a touring exhibition in 2018.