Tell me a story: documentary film workshop Escuela Internacional de Cine y Television, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba June-July 2017

I wake up into a tropical night, alongside people I scarcely know. In sleep I’m still in Cuba and the familiarity of home has still to seep back in to my dreams. One month is a long time, and the mysteriousness of the island is hard to shake. African in its music, its Santaria dolls and rituals and white clad figures: different layers of truth pervade every aspect of life.

“Everything is a façade here” I’m told, matter of factly, as I stand watching and listening to a group of people. So I let slip the illusion of certainty, and with it the aspiration to an understanding of what is really going on at any time. ‘Really’, ‘actually’ or ‘truthfully’ are meaningless anyway, wherever one is – words that are only ever contingent. 

I was studying documentary film. While the rest pursued the exposure of truth I entertained myself translating interviews for our subtitles. It’s tricky and duplicitous art - imposing one language and way of thought upon another - but at least useful . I’ve never really understood what truth is – nor how it can be dug out like an already-cut diamond. Long ago I wandered off towards a hazier world.

The project became stranded, without direction. We dragged it back towards its original subject – blindness. Content needed to communicate that as an experience. The work took form and acquired life around those bones. Structure and context gave the work meaning, replacing the vacuum of absolute truth.

On the plane home I watched Belle de Jour and drifted in and out of the fantasies of Séverine and those who surrounded her. When it finishes one understands that every word, every action, every occurrence, was nothing but fantasy – hers, theirs, Bunuel’s and mine.