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First timer Bruce Donnelly highlights a scene that will surely change soon in Alumbrones, an affectionate portrait of Havana residents who have learned to make a living from art during very lean times. Its undiscriminating focus, accepting artists whose degree of talent varies widely, may not help it with audiences seeking a fine-art doc, but many viewers will appreciate that very quality, enjoying this modest effort’s celebration of a bootstrappy creative community.
Frustratingly, Donnelly never IDs his subjects as they appear on screen, but they range from those who studied art in school to a woman who first started painting at 36 and never dreamed it would change her life. Elsewhere, we see a youth-embracing studio for experimental graphics and meet a quartet of teenage boys who seemingly tease each other into productivity.
“We don’t have internet…” one painter points out, highlighting the difficulty of varying one’s cultural diet and keeping up with new artists in this cut-off nation. As a result, “When you see a painting from Cuba, you know it’s from Cuba.”
Much of that signature derives from making do, it seems: Nearly everyone here talks about the “Special Period” of the mid-90s, when the end of Soviet support meant widespread scarcity on the island. Artists here, like other residents, tend to be scroungers, reusers, recyclers.
Pride of place goes to Pedro Pablo Oliva, whose epic canvas “El Gran Apagon,” depicting a famous power outage, is cited by multiple interviewees as inspirational. Slightly less time goes to a pair of married artists, whose lively and funny interview is as good as anything here at communicating a sense of playful intellectual life in their community. Ample shots of street life and shorelines, with a predictably charming soundtrack, flesh out the picture.
Production company: Lost Boy Productions
Director: Bruce Donnelly
Producers: Bruce Donnelly, Paulo Adorni
Director of photography: Esteban Malpica
Editors: Aron Matschulat Aguiar, Lucas Lespier
Music: Rey Escobar, Rodolfo Argudin Justiz “Peruchin”
No rating, 74 minutes
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Toronto Film Festival