Guest blogger Harry Lynch is a director, writer and producer. In 1996 he co-founded Trinity Films with producer Jeff Fraley. The company is based in Austin and specializes in documentaries for theatrical and broadcast release.
Greetings, art seekers. Recapturing Cuba, a documentary produced by Trinity Films, which I directed, and featuring Dallas artist Rolando Diaz, will air tonight. For those who might be interested, I thought I’d offer a recap of its journey from idea to broadcast.
We met Rolando in 2002, when he was first planning to return to Cuba. His family left under rather bad circumstances, forced to surrender all their belongings and savings, and fled to the US penniless. His father died shortly after arriving in Miami, and his mother 10 years later. Rolando’s memories of his homeland were associated with this traumatic transition, and he had previously not cared to return.
Yet around the time of his 40th birthday, Rolando began to study more of Cuban art, and began to notice great similarities to his own work: the subject matter, the color palette, the light, even the brush strokes. He had not studied or worked with these painters, did not even know of most of them until he began to research them. It became apparent that his nearly forgotten island childhood had a profound effect on his art. That, combined with a some new family and personal concerns, had made him decide to return to his homeland.
As documentary filmmakers, we were aware of several other Cuban homecoming films, and worried that one more of them would have a hard time finding a unique voice, and therefore, a broadcast. Thankfully, Rolando turned out to be an intriguing, enthusiastic, energetic and camera-friendly character, with a mission quite different than those other programs: He wanted to go back not only to revisit his past, but to recapture his forgotten memories of Cuba to better understand, and to reinvigorate, his art. That journey would take him to meet some of Havana’s top artists and to discover the thriving Cuban art world. That sounded like a unique perspective for a film!
We actually went to Cuba in advance of Rolando, with state department permission, to scout out the locations he wanted to visit and to meet the artists he had contacted through Jesus Megan, a Havana ‘art guide’ that our producer, Brady Dial, had discovered. We narrowed down the list of artists and secured permissions from the various filming locations. Rolando arrived shortly thereafter, and the events you see in the film took place.
We had raised funding only for the production portion of the film, and did not have the money to edit and score it. So, the footage sat for three years while we produced an IMAX film (Ride Around the World), about the global history of cowboys. The crew for that film exceeded 500, when you take into account all 7 countries we filmed in. Quite a change from our 6 person crew in Havana!
Only after the IMAX was complete did we revisit the footage, and finally secured finishing funds. A little secret — we actually intended for the film to be an hour, but we could only raise funds to complete a half hour piece. (Funding is the strongest determining factor of any film!) This forced us to edit very judiciously, but I actually think the finished film turned out better, including only the best moments.
It was during this completion phase that we partnered with KERA. The station had presented our Making the Modern, about the design and construction of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and were interested in another art documentary. We did not know at that time that it would be the kick-off film for the Art&Seek initiative — though we’re very pleased that it has become such.
A couple of production notes: the still photographs in the film — there are many, though our editor, Jose Flores, did such an expert job of blending them into the flow of the film that they almost seem like footage — were all taken by Peter Larsen, who accompanied us to Havana and has not been thanked enough for his great contribution.
The music was composed by Brian Satterwhite, who we’ve worked with on 4 films now. I had heard the great cellist Bion Tsang on public radio in Austin, and contacted him about perhaps joining us on a soundtrack. When I mentioned this to Brian, he wanted to try to involve him in this one. Bion agreed, as long as the cello could be the featured instrument. And voila: the music you hear in the film, the only Cuban cello music that I know of. (OK, perhaps there’s as Brouwer concerto…)
Brady Dial was the producer of the project, who organized everything from start to finish. And Jesus Megan (both already mentioned) was our guide in Cuba, who set up every meeting with every artist, along with every location. The film would never have happened without their hard work.
We hope you enjoy the broadcast, and that you’ll blog in with your comments.