- A Tribute to Santiago Alvarez
Year:  2003
Showtime:   Wednesday, March 19, 2003 @ 07:10 PM

  As part of our tribute to Santiago Alvarez, we are delighted to show some of his well known films such as Now, LBJ, Hanoi Tuesday the 13th (Hanoi Martes 13), and his last film about Cuban dance and music called The Island of Music (La isla de la musica).


SANTIAGO ALVAREZ was born in Havana, on March 8th, 1919 from Spanish parents: the father was from Asturias and the mother from Castille. His elementary studies were done in Plantel Jovellanos of the Asturian Center. He began working at the age of 14 as an apprentice of linotype and type case at P. Fernandez and Co. printer shop. When he was 16 he directed a one-hour radio program in CMBZ named “Youth Issues” aimed at the youth. He also directed the trade union magazine “Poliza” from the insurance and finance trade union. He graduated from the night course at Havana institute obtaining a certificate as a pre-university graduate in Sciences and Letters. At Havana university he obtained his degree in Philosophy and Letters. On that same university he took medicine classes until second year of the career. In 1939 he traveled to the United States where he worked as a miner in the coal mines in Pennsylvania and as a dish-washer and proof-reader in New York. He undertook psychology studies at Columbia University (USA).

He was a founding member of the Sociedad Cultural “Nuestro Tiempo” that grouped the most progressive intellectuals from 1950-1959. He was a funding member of ICAIC in 1959. He directed the Short Documentary and Animation Department from 1961 until 1967. He was Vice-President of ICAIC until 1976 when said institution went into the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture. In 1961 he created and was the director of ICAIC Latin American Newsreel. He presided the National Federation of Cine Clubs. He was member of the National Committee of the National Union of Cuban Writers (UNEAC). On its 70 anniversary he was made HONORARY MEMBER. Deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power during a 10-year period. Member of the Director of the Cuban branch of the Latin American Foundation of Film makers. He directed documentaries filmed in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Large part of his work has as its main theme Internationalism. He was a War Correspondent in Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, Ethiopia and Angola. He traveled with Fidel Castro in several trips abroad done by the latter producing afterwards documentaries on these trips. As a filmmaker he obtained more than 80 first awards at International Festivals and National Contests. He headed several Cuban delegations visiting other countries. He was member of the Jury of International Film Festivals and participated in film events and seminars in Huelva, San Sebastian, Leipzig, Oberhausen, Moscow, India, Autonomous University of Mexico, University of Illinois, Chicago, the Hunter University in New York, Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, University of Catargena, Colombia.

He participated in film retrospective of his work in France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, India. USSR, Federal Republic of Germany, Democratic Republic of Germany, Mexico, Bogota, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Portugal, USA, Vietnam, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Algeria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Bulgaria, Poland, Yugoslavia. He offered classes on documentary filmmaking at the International Film, Radio and TV School in San Antonio de los Baños. Also at the Universidad de Santiago de Cuba and Havana, Autonomous University of Mexico. He offered Master Classes in Bolivia, Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Switzerland, France, USA and Spain. On 11 different occasions he headed the Jury of Documentary and Cartoons in the Latin American Film Festival. In 1968 he received the “Felix Elmuza” award, the highest one granted by the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC). He was granted the medals for the XX and XXX Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. In 1975 he was made member of the Academy of Arts of the GDR. The Socialist Government of Vietnam granted him the Friendship Order in 1978 and the Gold Lotto in 1988. In 1980 he was granted by the Universidad de los Andes, Merida, Venezuela the title of “GRAN BRUJO DE LOS ANDES” (Great Witch of the Andes) and “CRONISTA DEL TERCER MUNDO”.

In 1981 the Ministry of Culture granted him the “Felix Varela” Award (First Class), the highest decoration granted by Cuba on culture. In 1989 he was named “MAESTRO PERENNE” by the International Film, Radio and TV School from San Antonio de los Baños, given his work and merits in the training of several generations of filmmakers in Latin America. He obtained the “Ernesto Che Guevara” diploma in recognition of his internationalist epic and his constant passion for justice. On this occasion Joris Ivens received the same award. (1988). “El Diablo Cojuelo” prize granted by the Union de Jovenes Comunistas de Cuba for his cinematographic work that has contributed in the revolutionary formation of the Cuban youth (1986). In 1988 he received the title of “Assistant Joint Professor” and the High Institute of Arts. In 1988 he was made “Emeritus Professor” in cinematography arts by the High Institute of Arts. In 1984 he was made “Invited Professor” by the Universidad de Santiago de Cuba. In 1989 he was given the “Don Fernando Ortiz” medal on the occasion of the 25 anniversary of the foundation of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba. In 1989 he was given the “Jose Maria Heredia” medal granted by the Direction of Culture of the Provincial government of Santiago de Cuba to the whole of his production.

In 1988 he received the traditional symbol of the City of Havana, “La Giraldilla” for being a relevant cultural element. This order was granted by the Government of the Havana Province. In 1989 on the occasion of his 70 birthday he received the “Key of the City of Rome”. In 1988 he received a “Special Coral Award”, granted to the whole of his work, at the Festival of the New Latin American Films. The National Trade Union of Culture gave him the medal “Raul Gomez Garcia” on the occasion of the 25 anniversary of UPEC. In 1988 the Province of Ciego de Avila granted him the “Medal of the City”, acknowledging his cultural work. In 1989 he was granted the medal “30 Anniversary of the Cienfuegos Uprising” for the whole of his work. In 1988 he received the medal “475 Anniversary of the Foundation of Bayamo city” given his important contribution to the national culture. For his internationalist work he obtained the Annual Award granted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, the replica of the machete of General Maximo Gomex and the replica of the T-33 tank commanded by Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs. Medal “25 Anniversary of the Amateur Cultural Movement” granted for being an example of a revolutionary intellectual. “23 of August” commemorative medal by the Cuban Women’s Federation for the contribution made with his work to the defense of both women and children.

“Gold Dove” to the whole of his work at the Leipzig Documentary Festival (1988). In 1989 the he was granted the title “Doctor Honoris Causa” by the Higher Institute of the Arts. In 1990 he was granted the “Orden del Laureado” by the culture trade union for his outstanding contribution to the artistic and literary cultural development of the image. UNEAC granted him the award “Majadahonda 1936” for being an internationalist intellectual. In 1990 the Cuban Trade workers Central gave him the “Medalla de Reconocimiento” for his thirty years of artistic work. In 1990 the National Committee of UPEC granted him for once the “Jose Marti National Journalism Award” to the whole of his work. In 1991 he received a “Special Coral” on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the making of NOW documentary, the germ of what at present is known as video clip. The Democratic Union of Communications of the USA gave him in 1993 “The Dallas Smyte” award to the whole of his production, given his contribution for attaining a democratic communication in the world.

The 15th Festival of the New Latin American Film granted him in 1993 a Special Coral to NOTICIERO ICAIC, given his artistic contribution to a new way of informing. In 1993 he received “Premio de la Alcaldia de la Paz, Bolivia”, to the whole of his work, given the artistic contribution of it. In 1993 he received the “Award of the Bolivian Filmmakers Union” given his contribution to the development of cinematography in our continent. In 1994 he received an homage from the Meso de Imagen y Sonido of the Sao Paulo city. Amir Labaki published his book “El ojo de la Revolucipon, el cine urgente de Santiago Alvarez”. Homage of the City of Bahia, a retrospective of his films and videos. He visited Rio de Janeiro lecturing at the Universidad Católica of said city. In 1995 on the occasion of the centennial of cinematography he received an homage in Baranquilla city, Colombia. The Cartegena Film Festival, Colombia, rendered him an homage. He offered a workshop on documentaries in Barranquilla and Cartagena. In 1995 the Film Festival in Tampere, Finland, rendered him an homage by organizing a retrospective of his work on the 25th anniversary of said festival. Santiago was the main winner in the first festival held.

In 1995 he paid a visit to the Dominican Republic where he filmed material for three documentaries. A retrospective of his work at Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo. He offered three lectures on documentary making. Homage rendered by the Dominican Filmmaker Association on the occasion of the hundred years of cinematography. In 1995 he attended a gigantic retrospective (two months) of his work in Spain, visiting Madrid, Huesca, Valencia, La Coruña, Salamanca, Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. He also offered some lectures. In 1996 in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro he received an homage at the Documentary Festival E Tudo E Verdade. In 1996 an homage rendered at the Marseilles Documentary Festival, France VUE SUR LE DOCS. In 1997 the Seoul International Festival, South Korea, rendered him an homage. In 1997 a retrospective and homage took place in Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Cordova, Rosario, Entrerios, Santa Fe cities where he offered master classes. He is named Illustrious Citizen of the cities of Buenos Aires and Mendoza, as well as Merit Professor in Mendoza city. In 1997 an homage for the Film Library of Portugal. In 1997 a retrospective and homage organized in the Leipzig Festival. He was granted the Gold Dove to the whole of his work. In 1997 he was given the commemorative medal of the death of Che and his companions. In 1997 the Culture Trade Union gave him a commemorative diploma for its 20th anniversary for his contribution to culture. In 1997 he was granted the Key of Cerro municipality given his contribution to the sports movement in the city of Havana. In 1997 he was granted the “Mártires de Barbados Order” the top award granted by the sports national movement. In 1997 he received the Juan Gualberto Gomez Order granted by UPE given his contribution to journalism. In 1997 the Festival of New Latin American Film rendered him an homage organizing a retrospective of his most significant documentaries. In 1998 (January) he offered lectures in Cuenca, Ciudad Rel and Tenerife (Spain). He offered lectured at the International Documentary Festival Toulouse, France (March).

Books written on his work:

Santiago Alvarez, Cronista del Tercer Mundo by Edmundo Aray El ojo de la Revolución, el cine urgente de Santiago Alvarez by Amir Labaki
You can also find references to his work on: Larrouse Film Dictionary by Jean Luc Passek/ Filmmaker Dictionary by the British Film Institute/ Twenty Five Years of the New Latin American Cinema by Michael Channan/ The Cuban Image by Michael Channan/ The Social Documentary in Latin America by Julianne Burton/ Santiago Alvarez, from dramatic form to direct cinema by John Mraz/ Latin American filmmakers, interviews and films by Maria del Rosario Caetano/ And in many other specialized publications.

He directed 600 newsreels, over 120 35-mm documentaries and 10 videos. He died on May 20th, 1998. When death took him away he was working on two important documentaries.

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