FIDMarseille: Director Jeissy Trompiz On ‘Timeless Havana’ And Change In Cuba

Timeless Havana (La Imagen del Tiempo) director Jeissy Trompiz joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about making a film about change in Cuba.

Q: As I understand it, ‘Timeless Havana’ starts just after the death of Fidel Castro and the reopening of a US embassy in Cuba. Why did you want this significant moment in time as a starting point for the film? 

A: I started to shoot this film (the documentary part) before Fidel died. I was living in Cuba and I was shooting a documentary about the change happening on the island.

I had the intuition that Fidel was going to die soon, and it was a big point in the political process changing. I had filmed when Chávez, the former president of Venezuela, died, and it was huge. The situation in Venezuela was really weird, I wanted to see the parallels in the death of two important presidents in Latin America. Both death in a kind of way are the representation of change, of an uncertainty, for each countries. 

Q: The film has been described as falling between fly-on-the-wall documentary and fiction. Why did you chose this approach and what did it allow you to explore? 

A: I didn’t want to make a pure fiction film or a pure documentary film. I was interested in making a movie as it was an open body, in a way that you could see inside and outside of it. 

I believe sometimes fiction films represent reality better than documentaries. Documentaries provide a sense of reality and are more explorative than fiction films, from an artistic point of view. However, documentaries use a lot fiction techniques and sometimes tend to manipulate more than fiction.

With this movie. I also wanted to play with the cross fade between documentary and fiction. In this sense, most of the characters are inspired in real people I know. I don’t pretend to represent the truth about what is going on in Cuba, I’m more interested in showing how uncertain Cuba has been in the last few years.

In this way, the archive films (recent and older ones) allow me to have a lens on the past and the present of Cuba, and to show two important moments of change in the country: the Revolution and Post-Revolution.  

Q: As a Venezuela-Dominicana filmmaker, what is your relationship to Cuba? 

A: Cuba is an example of the political contemporary situation in Latin America, where capitalism and socialism have lost credibility and there is not a third political option (maybe we have to create a new revolution). Cuba is in a middle of change, but nobody knows what kind of change it will be. 

I’m Venezuelan, not Dominican, I just live in the Dominican Republic. To live in Cuba is particular, I found some of the “Caribbean absurd” that I like, because I was raised with the “Caribbean absurd” in Maracaibo, a Caribbean part of Venezuela. But in Cuba I found a context very unique.

Because of that, I didn’t want to be a normal foreigner who shot on the island; I travelled around, I lived in La Havana and in a small town called San Antonio de los Baños. At the the film school where I studied, EICTV (Escuela Internacional de cine y Tv), I read history books, I worked on a documentary film in Cuba before I started Timeless Havana. And this city, La Havana, became a home, a place that I liked to shoot. The city and me have a particular empathy for each other.   

Q: Can you tell us about some of the characters that populate this story? 

A: I wanted to film the changing in Cuba, the uncertainly, but I wanted to see those changes from the point of view of characters that were also changing, taking decisions, wondering, dealing with uncertain situations, as I was in this moment of my life. 

My main reference for this movie is literary – Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. I wonder what would happen if Alejandro and Rita can’t wait for their Godot, Laura, and if they need to look for her. That’s why I created a journey in the city as if they are in a labyrinth.

Q: How did you find the experience of directing your first feature film? 

A: It’s nice, a constant process of discovery. I try to see cinema as if it were not something special, expensive or hard to do, I try to see as it were a building, as if I were a construction worker, and every day I have to put a brick on the wall, a wall that will become a room, a kitchen and at the end, a completed building… a movie… 

Q: Who are some of the filmmakers you admire and have been inspired by? 

A: I don’t like to talk about influence or inspiration but I can’t deny they exist. I’m influenced by Godard, Antonioni, David Lynch and many others.

Specifically for this movie, I need to mention Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Memorias del Subdesarrollo), Pietro Marcelo, Chris Marker, Jarmush, and Jonas Mekas. But my main references use to be literary. 

But, at the end, the film for me is an occasion to become aware about how I see the world, what is my particular point of view instead of emulating others. Every film or book is a point of view, a kind of universe created by somebody.That’s what I’m looking for when I see a film or when I read a book.

Q: ‘Timeless Havana’ will screen at FIDMarseille. What does it mean to have your debut feature film premiere at this prestigious festival? 

A: It is wonderful. I really like this festival and I wanted to have a premiere in a place where the movie could be appreciated. The team is really happy right now and want to know how the film is received.

Q: What is next for you? 

A: I’m in the process of looking some funds to finish a short film, it’s a kind of thematic sequel of Timeless Havana, it’s called I Suoni del tempo (The Sound Of The Time), a Cuban-Venezuela-Italy co-production, a fiction film made with found footage and some parts filmed with an old stock 16mm film.

I also started research for a film in Maracaibo, in a place that is in danger of being flooded by a lake. In the Dominican Republic, I’m starting to write a script about Venezuelan immigrants and link this situation with the immigrants crisis in Mexico-USA, Italy, Spain, Africa, but from the point of view of three characters who are trying to find themselves in a place that they barely know.

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