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Cangamba an exceptional Cuban movie
Canganma, besides being a tiny far-distant spot in the Republic of Angola, has become a historic milestone for Cuban-Angolan ties, one more in a string of many battles that helped shape post independence Southern Africa.

In Cangamba, a village of barely 8,000 inhabitants, located at a latitude of 13 o and 43 min. S, and a longitude of 19 o and 43 min E, in the province of Mexico, little over a hundred Cuban military advisers and Angolan soldiers put up for a week with a no-quarter surprise siege by the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), armed to their teeth.

At the time UNITA, bent on ousting the ruling government of the Movement for the Independence of Angola (MPLA), was in cahoots with the all-white pro-apartheid South African rulers, who had thrown all of their armed and financial weight behind their Angolan proxies, as means to maintain their supremacist post-colonial status in the region.

In the summer of 83, Cubans and Angolans in Cangamba resisted the colossal onslaught, not without paying dearly in human lives. But their UNITA attackers could not fulfil their goal of taking a single prisoner with them, nor claim final victory, in spite of their numerical superiority. Cubans reinforces responded promptly, following a complicated military manoeuvre directed from Havana. Plus the besieged clinged to every possibility to resist. Never gave up.

This epic played its part in the eventual downfall of apartheid. Small as might appear against the larger picture of world opposition to segregation in South Africa, it deserves credit as well as one more step towards the independence of Namibia and the defeat of the racist armed forces. Whoever continues to think that Angola, and Cagamba as part of it- , is a mere chapter of the Cold War should try, at least temporarily, to abandon any bias and simplistic approaches on the issue and compare the geopolitical map of before and after the conflict. Are the Southern African nations freer or not today? What material benefit did Cuba gain in it, and what did it bring home not being the mortal remains of the soldiers and civilians it lost to war, accidents and epidemics? If doubts continue to haunt the unyielding skeptic, I have one more piece of advice: go ask Mandela.

Finding the Cangamba epic inspiring enough, a film crew at the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), recently decided to take the story to the silver screen. Led by seasoned Cuban film director Rogelio Paris, they finished shooting in late 2007. Now Kangamba, as the movie is called - having replaced the initial C with a seemingly more appealing K -, is scheduled to premier sometime early in 2008. Paris is reluctant to give many details, but makes it clear that "this is not a war epic. Kangamba is more about men at war on extreme situations"

After hearing this Cubanow had no other choice but to press Paris into speaking his truth or else hold his peace forever:

Cubanow: How did you manage to not make a war epic when shooting Kangamba? Are we talking then about a film studded with conflicts of conscience, emotions, sentiments and politics? So, is it neither an epic nor a political flick? Are we then referring to a genre not defined yet?

Rogelio París: Kangamba deals with a war context, (Southern Angola, August 1983), but such circumstances do not make it a war film as such, simply featuring men at war. Instead, Kangamba is simultaneously an intimist and epic film, reflecting on men and women involved in war, facing extreme violent situations, which allow for them to multiply their qualities, contradictions and emotions. Kangamba is a film that embodies a dramatic and bittersweet discourse seeking to stimulate reflections in audiences, both Cuban and foreign.

C: Any film trying to recreate war scenes requires a high level of logistics. Is this an exceptional film in terms of budget? Which were the main challenges facing its production?

RP: Some decades ago - it is not pointless to recall it -Hollywood created and developed the concept of super productions (big budget films), which did guarantee big shows, but could not vouch for high artistic quality in such films. Cinemascope came to life with the screening of The Holy Robe, a very expensive botch (Twentieth Century Fox brought Cinemascope to commercial filmmaking in 1953, with the screening of The Holy Robe, by Henry Coster, and the musical How to Marry A Millionaire, by Jean Negulesco.)

If Kangambas complex production were to be approached on such premises, we would be then faced with a multimillion budget, which amounts, so to speak, to deeply offend our people.

However, since the early stages of production (late 2004), we were aware of the need to avoid any possible traps and accordingly sought and found rational economic solutions, without ever disregarding the our commitment to make a product of high artistic and aesthetic values.

Based on such lucid approach, the Ministry of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) - this is an outstanding example - scheduled all of their fighters and helicopters flights as part of the military training of commanders, pilots and technicians in 2007. As for us, we previously planned and agreed on every one of the flights with them.

Advisers and technicians of the Air Force installed a camera on one Mig 21 fighter, to shoot every single manoeuvre made by the pilot.

In addition, our film took upon the challenge of being the first in the history of the Cuban film industry to use such state-of-the-art digital FX. To attain this goal we relied on very talented electronic engineers, with the full support from cinematographers, our chief editor and an aerial cameraman, who performed well beyond the directors expectations.

In a nutshell, this film prompted us to learn, grow and save, even when tapping on untrodden paths, unknown to date to filmmakers of the Cuban Film Institute.

C: Does Kangamba stands as an aesthetic departure from previous Cuban films?

RP: To some extent - referring to aesthetics - Kangamba takes upon new discourses, by resorting to new technologies. One example: we used electronics from a serious and creative perspective to create numerous complex digital effects for the first time in our country. Our engineers readily undertook the challenge, bearing in mind the dramatic nature of FX.

C: Do you believe Americans audiences, who are not familiar with the events, may come to understand the African conflicts through your film?

RP: All along, Ive been concerned with placing Kangamba in a competitive position in the international market. I worked with editor Pedrito Suárez to bring to life a non-Cuban character, a Finnish, who would be ill-informed and would help us understand when the films discourse was not intelligible enough. It is said that "One swallow does not make a summer". We should not expect Kangamba to summarize in just 100 minutes all the complexities of those years. However, as an artistic endeavour, Kangamba succeeds in shedding some light on that terrible and beautiful period in the struggle for the total independence of Angola, with the support of Cuban internationalist troops.

C: Cuban films made in the 90s -and so far into the 00s- have found an eleventh-hour-solution in co-productions with other countries, a two-pronged tool due to its controversial results. Does Kangamba follow this line?


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