A Cuban Documemory is a feature length documentary film by Cuban American filmmaker Marissa Chibás in collaboration with Cubans on and off the island. Chibás reflects on her many travels to Cuba since 1993, from her unique perspective as the daughter of an exiled Cuban revolutionary leader and runner up Miss Cuba.
Marissa Chibás is a Los Angeles-based writer, filmmaker, and actor and recipient of the TCG Fox Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement. Her short film, Finding Shelter, won best documentary short at the San Diego Latino Film Festival in 2019 and she received a filmmaker of the month award (September 2019) from NewFilmmakers LA. Her work as an actor has been seen on Broadway and on major stages throughout the world and her solo show, Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary, has toured the U.S., Europe, and Mexico and was published by Routledge Press. Other shorts include; Zohra which was nominated for best actress and best comedy awards at Official Latino Film Festival and streamed on BronxNet, and Nostalgia, in collaboration with Cuba based artist Aissa Santiso and presented at Fabrica de Arte in Havana. Her films have screened at; Nevertheless Film Festival, Anthology Film Archive, The Segal Center in NYC, Echo Park Film Center, NewFilmakers LA co-hosted with the Oscars among others. She is currently working on A Cuban Documemory, a feature length film based on reflections of her travels to Cuba since 1993, and her life as the daughter of a Cuban revolutionary and runner up Miss Cuba. She recently completed her book, Mythic Imagination and the Actor, to be released August 3rd 2021 by Routledge Press. She is on the Theater School faculty at California Institute of the Arts where she is Director of Duende CalArts, an initiative of the CalArts Center for New Performance that produces innovative Latinx and Latin American artists. For Duende she conceived and wrote Shelter, which premiered in April 2016 at Lincoln Park, was presented at the Kennedy Center and is published by NoPassport Press. It is our pleasure to interview this talented female artist for Toronto Film Magazine.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I started making films ten years ago with A silent film project called Clara's Los Angeles about a Latina wardrobe mistress who wakes up on a park bench in 2011, and the last thing she remembers is dancing in a Charleston competition at the Ambassador hotel in 1926. It was my response to hearing too many times that LA has no history. Clara was a character that poked and prodded me until I told her story. Up until that point I'd acted in theater, film, and tv and that was my first time behind the camera. I loved it. I had a great DP and overall creative partner John Hawk, who made the process a blast.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film? A Cuban Documemory is a kind of visual memory on my Cuban family, my trips to Cuba since 1993, and my obsession with seeking home. I'd made a play about my experiences called Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary which focused on my father. This time I wanted to do something that honored my mother and allowed for a more dreamlike, spiritual reflection on motherland and home. What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent female filmmaker in the film industry?It seems we need to prove our authority over and over again. The industry is so heavily male that the assumption is you can't cut it if you are female identifying. That's frustrating, but I am encouraged by organizations like Alliance of Women Directors, which I am a part of, that is doing the great work of shifting the landscape. It's an amazing sisterhood there. I see this happening on many tv shows and sets, women hiring women. That's going to make the difference.
How difficult is it to fund indie films? Yikes, it's very difficult. But the support is there if you keep pitching your ideas ands shake the right trees.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work? For this film in particular I was very inspired by Natalia Amada's documentary El General, RaMell Ross's Hail County This Morning This Evening, and Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell. Those are all very different, very brave exquisite films, but each made me reflect on the way I wanted to share my own story. I love the space each of those films make for the audience to enter the world being revealed.
How did your project go into production and how did you finalize the cast and the crew? It's a documentary so no cast and crew. I have super 8 footage I took from 1974, when I first held a camera, and also VHS recordings of my trips to Cuba in 1993, and more recent footage from when I created an installation in Havana in 2017. The Documemory is my POV during all those stages of my life and what those encounters with family and Cuba have taught me.
How was the film received by your audience and film festivals and what is your plan for further distribution of the film? We have currently been selected for three film festivals and are waiting to hear about several others. We haven't had a premiere yet but the select few who have seen the film have been very enthusiastic. It is an emotional journey that gets folks to reflect on their own families and heritage.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent films? Stick with what you are most passionate about. Don't try to make the thing your think others will want you to make. Make the work that you are inspired to make, unapologetically.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on? I am currently working on a feature film script titled 72, An 18-year-old, fiercely independent Cuban American, Violetta (aka Viv) celebrates New Year’s Eve with her family and friends in New York City 1972 - with the back drop of Nixon’s recent re-election, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and explosive social unrest. Viv spends the wildly festive night gathering the courage to tell her parents a deep secret she has been afraid to share. This film is about the wild array of characters I grew up with from very diverse backgrounds. It's a kind of story I've rarely if ever seen, middle class immigrants partying and struggling together as they adjust to a new life. I plan to shoot the film in 2023.
Why do you make films? I make films because I am passionate about telling the stories the dominant culture tries to pour concrete over. Powerful films have opened up vistas for me, enabled me to reflect on the deep stuff. I want to do that, to make films that offer my audiences an opportunity to be reminded of what lies beneath the surface. Ultimately, I want to move people and get them to feel.