CUBA: LIVING BETWEEN HURRICANES
VIVIR ENTRE CICLONES
Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes is a film is about the elements – hurricanes and rain, the sea and the earth. About a fishing port on the north coast of Cuba which has seen better days: Caibarién, where Hurricane Irma – one of the most powerful ever to sweep the Caribbean – made landfall on 17th September 2017. About the effects of climate across the centuries in a Caribbean island which was absorbed into global markets for its commodity crops – tobacco, coffee and above all, sugar. How sugar changed the landscape, through deforestation and soil exhaustion. About the collapse of sugar and the encroachment of a new market – tourism. And about the growing threat from climate change, and moves towards reforestation, eco-tourism and sustainable farming.
Working with the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez, a Cuban NGO dedicated to environmentalism, gave us the opportunity to get away from the iconic imagery of a Caribbean paradise which Communism has caught in an anachronistic time warp – the very imagery associated with the mass tourism whose growth since the 1990s has gone some way to replacing the foreign earnings lost when the sugar industry collapsed after the fall of the Soviet bloc. Our camera offers an alternative unvarnished perspective, as we film the streets of the town and surrounding countryside, and visit one of the new hotels on the nearby keys.
We found our title in a speech by Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to the meeting of Caribbean countries in Managua in 2019: “Living between hurricanes has conditioned our lives; it has modified our geographies and spurred our migrations. And it has also educated us in the need to further study the phenomena that await us and work to reverse their damage.” The film takes a step in this direction. Taking our lead from recent work by historians and alive to the growing threat of climate change, Caibarién, once a thriving entrepôt, offered a promising vantage point to test the historians’ thesis about the advance of commodity frontiers in response to the development of the world market. One of us already knew the locality, where forests and food self-sufficiency had given way to cattle ranching, tobacco cultivation, and increasingly during the nineteenth century, the sugarcane industry, with its railways and sugar mills, resulting in soil exhaustion and pollution. Initial research for the film threw up a variety of footage of Irma’s landfall on YouTube, and we were sure there would be more. But this would only be our starting point. Our aim was to look for the historical big picture, and the relation of hurricanes to other facets of climate and ecology in a region made more vulnerable by climate change.
What we also discovered is that ecological thinking in Cuba goes back to the 1960s, when reforestation began; that the country has also been developing alternatives in the form of eco-tourism; that environmental consciousness has grown since Fidel Castro’s speech to the Earth Summit in Río de Janeiro in 1992; and the economic crisis of the 1990s has also encouraged new models of sustainable farming. Solutions like this are not just important locally. The challenge of climate change is a global one.
Cuba: Living Between Hurricanes had its premiere on 10 December 2019 during the Havana International Film Festival, and is now available through open access at www.livingbetweenhurricanes.org
‘money puzzles’ online
“Sharp critique” – “Fascinating” – “Outstanding achievement”
“a brilliant and illuminating film with really good storytelling and construction of its epic subject”
Money Puzzles addresses the widespread misunderstandings about money and debt to be found in both the media and everyday life, not to mention university economics departments. It questions the illusory qualities of the myriad forms of money in the twenty-first century, along with the falsehoods and distortions of the economics on which austerity politics is based. It asks about the role of debt as a form of control and coercion at international, national and household levels, and what happens when debts become unpayable. It also reports on alternative approaches variously found in the social solidarity movements in countries like Greece and Spain, complementary currencies in the UK, the international campaign for citizens debt audits, and the need for universal principles for sovereign debt restructuring recognised by the UN General Assembly last year.
Money Puzzles is a counter-narrative to mainstream economic orthodoxy. It also dispenses with the conventions of the mainstream documentary – the all-knowing narrator, the balanced opinions – and turns to different voices: economics students in England frustrated with the inadequacy of what they’re being taught, solidarity volunteers in Greece, anti-eviction activists in Spain, advocates of citizens debt audits across Europe, critical economists like Costas Lapavitsas, Molly Scott-Cato, Johnna Mongomerie and Axel Kicillof.
It is not without irony that a film about money is constrained by lack of it: the subject matter of the film is necessary for making it. Working from an academic base but very much at the margins, with only small tranches of academic funding, the film was made with support in kind from colleagues (especially the Political Economy Research Centre (PERC) at Goldsmiths), and a small crowd-funder. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to friends and colleagues in Greece, Spain, Belgium and Argentina who helped to make it happen, and to the community groups who opened their doors to our cameras.
But if the film’s mode of production is determined by the structuring constraints of our lack of finances, the flexibility of digital video enables alternate forms of dissemination, and Money Puzzles is designed for multiple forms of use.
The complete version runs 130mns.
The short version runs 58mns.
Watch them here.
The chapters can be watched individually here.
A film about the City of London, the Corporation that governs it, and its role in the economic crisis.
Directed by Michael Chanan – Written by Lee Salter
On 15 October 2011 anti-capitalist protestors, intending to set up camp in front of the London Stock Exchange in Paternoster Square under the banner of Occupy LSX, were ejected from the square and parked themselves instead in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. The result was one of the starting points for this film: a highly public debate about capitalism and the Church.
But there was also another power acting in the shadows to eventually eject the Occupiers – the City of London Corporation. An ancient body which dates back before William the Conqueror, before there was a parliament in Westminster, which zealously guards its autonomy and privileges to this day.
This is the subject of Secret City: a state within a state, with deleterious effects on democracy, politics and economics in London, the country, and the world, for the City is the linchpin of global finance capital. In short, not just a film for Londoners—especially in these times of crisis, the role of the City concerns everyone everywhere.
Secret City had its premiere on October 16, 2012 at the House of Commons.
Available on DVD and streaming from E2 Films
Three Short Films About Chile
A trilogy by Michael Chanan made on a visit to Chile in November 2011.
1. Homage ･ 2. Community ･ 3. Protest
Three glimpses of Chile in 2011. Homage is a visit to Valparaiso. Community is a portrait of Población La Victoria and its community television station, Señal 3. Protest is an account of the momentous student protest movement—the occupations, marches, demonstrations, street actions and web activism—and its tremendous impact on the country’s political life, as they denounce the most intensely privatised education system in the world, demand the return of free public education, and question the legitimacy of actually existing democracy in Chile.
chronicle of protest: the film
CHRONICLE OF PROTEST
(UK 2011) dir. Michael Chanan 90m. Digital.
A video diary about the movement against
government spending cuts in the universities and beyond
with students, activists and citizens of the real big society.
Featuring Terryl Bacon, Terry Eagleton, Mehdi Hasan, Joe Kelleher, Josie Long,
Len McCluskey, Blake Morrison, Paul O’Prey, Nina Power, Michael Rosen,
Lee Salter, Clifford Singer, Sly and Reggie, Mary Warnock and more.
With songs by Banner Theatre.
In collaboration with the New Statesman and Roehampton University.
Premiered Sat 30 April 2011 • East End Film Festival