This past week, the documentary film, Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, Azul! (translation: Not Red, or Green; Blue!) debuted online. The production company that made the film, Matraka Productions, hopes it goes global. Viral. But more lies in this wish than just the typical ego rub, audience wrangling, and the ubiquitous fifteen-minutes-of fame campaign. This is much, much more than that. This film is important to Matraka because it means something for the future of their country -- for the creation of a civil society in Cuba.
The film documents the creation of an electronic music festival called Rotilla -- a kind of contemporary Cuban Woodstock -- "A beachhead for unimaginable freedom [on the island]," said Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo of the festival -- until the government took it over.
The festival came into being in 2007, when Matraka felt the need to spread electronica like the apostles had spread the gospels. And so they took to the road, and they put up stages, and they made a festival by the beach. "The first year was very good," says Diddier Santos Moleiro, festival and Matraka producer, "even though I only slept four hours in four days." By 2008, the festival had grown -- there was an electronic music stage at the center, as always, but now there was another stage too, one where music fused, where rock could meet rap; and another stage, where emerging groups could be heard. Eventually, Matraka added a cinema stage, and by 2010, they had gathered an audience of 20,000 people. Importantly, the show was independently produced and there was no cover. Matraka's vision was coming into focus; their purpose clarifying. "Our vision had always been to help create art in Cuba, not just the kind of art that's been sanctioned by the approved media outlets, but that is really Cuban, that we believe to be interesting, that transmits a positive message to the community about our independence, about growth," said Santos Moleiro.
By 2011, however, the government had stolen the festival. "That year they notified us that the festival was no longer our event, that we no longer had anything to do with it," says Santos Moleiro. Matraka decided that they needed to act; let people know that their festival had been kidnapped and refashioned. Eventually, they made a documentary about the takeover: Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, Azul! The film was censored in Cuba, but has been shown in Miami and New York City, at special screenings. Last week, it hit the web. On a warm June day in Miami, I sat down with Santos Moleiro, over Cuban Coffee, to try to understand the complexities behind the film; Matraka's work; Cuba. What follows are excerpts from our interview.
VG: Why did they do it? Why, in your view, do you think the government stole the show?
DSM: My personal point of view, I think they were afraid. Scared in the sense that we were better organized than them. They don't see it as something positive. That there are people in Cuba capable of creating such an event. No. We are independent, and that in Cuba is like saying that you have a voice and vote, and that, in Cuba, is not permitted. Unfortunately, in Cuba, there's a saying that goes around: "with the revolution, everything; against it, nothing." The "Revolution," however, as they see it, because when you really look the word revolution up, it's nothing like the kind of revolution they talk about. Art can't be authentic under their revolution. If you are not there talking about communism, adulating communism, then you're a strange character, and if you're a strange character, they start to look at you askew. And the minute you criticize them, you become their enemy. I suppose they stole the festival out of fear. To impose their power again. Demonstrate, once more, that they are the ones with rights.
VG: Do you consider yourself a dissident?
DSM: In Cuba "dissident," like "revolution," is one thing and in the world it's another. It's very complicated. There should be two dictionaries, one Cuban, and one regular Spanish. If you're going to look at this from the point of view of the actual dictionary, then, yes, I consider myself a dissident because I dissent to many of the directions my government is leading my country. But in Cuba, you say you are a dissident and they call you a mercenary. I'd say that in Cuba there are around 11 million dissidents because you talk to anyone on the street, and people are dissenting to the same things you are, but they are afraid to say it. Because there isn't a political or social culture in which you can. They don't feel they have the right, or they don't feel secure in saying what they believe. In Cuba, if you are a dissident or in opposition, then you are distancing yourself form society as a whole. The group we work with, they've turned us into dissidents, because they've separated us from our society, from our social group. We are, to a certain degree pariahs to them. In one sense I'm a dissident, and in another ... When you talk to people in Cuba, you have to be very careful about nomenclature, you have to teach people that being a dissident doesn't mean I'm going to conspire against a system or my people. As I said, it's complicated.
VG: What would you like to see for Cuba's future?
DSM: [Long sigh]. I want so much for Cuba. I would love to see, in Cuba, a more democratic country. I would like to see the government open up. Real elections; and if the communists win again in those real elections, then good for them...I'd like to see openings politically, socially, culturally. There's a great deal that's good about Cuba, but there's so much that has been lost, so much wrong has been done to the Cuban people. Today, the 34 years I've lived in Cuba, I feel disillusioned. We live in a bubble. When you go into the world and you see it, it's like you are an illiterate. Literal literacy was an achievement in Cuba, but the majority of Cubans don't know what the internet is, what a social network is, they don't know how to use the internet to develop a nation, to use technology to develop themselves, society, politics, the economy. We are behind in civil society. It's crazy... I would want so much for Cuba five years from now, and not even five years, next year, or tomorrow. I would like that when I woke up, they'd tell me: Okay, here we go, a new track.
If anybody is building that new track, it's companies like Matraka, people like Santos Moleiro, who are trying to carve out a true space for expression in Cuba. Watch the documentary, and see for yourself. Upcoming, Santos Moleiro has just completed another documentary about journalism and the press in Cuba, centering around government control of the media and the contemporary journalists trying to break free.