Honorary Degree Citation - Julio Garcia Espinosa

by Rosanna Maule, June 2002

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Julio Garcia Espinosa, a leading filmmaker of Cuban cinema, director of groundbreaking short- and feature-length films, innovative film theorist of the New Latin American Cinema, co-founder and president for many years of the Cuban Institute of Film Art and Industry, former director of the Havana International Latin American Film Festival, and former vice-minister in the Cuban Ministry of Culture.

Julio Garcia Espinosa was born in Havana in 1926. He has been making films for nearly half a century. His commitment to popular cinema was shaped by his own early experiences in the industry. He received his early training in filmmaking at prestigious film school Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, which he attended from 1951 to 1954. Returning to Cuba to work in film and radio, in 1955 he co-directed the film El Megano, a precursor of Cuban revolutionary filmmaking, which was suppressed by the Batista government. Following the revolution, he went on to become one of the founding members of the world-renowned Instituto Cubano de las Artes e Industrias, of which he was president for a time. In addition to directing several short and feature-length films, Garcia Espinosa, in his capacity as director of Artistic Programming at ICAIC, served as a consultant on a score of other important Cuban films. He was one of the most influential leaders of a strong movement that brought Cuban history and culture to life while also stimulating a critical disposition in viewers. He developed innovative mobile cinemas, providing the people of rural Cuba with access to a wide variety of films. In his role as the director of the Havana International Latin American Film Festival from 1982 until 1990 he supported many Latin American filmmakers struggling to work outside the commercial film industries.

Garcia Espinosa played an integral role in what critics have called the golden decade of Cuban cinema. His 1967 movie Las aventuras de Juan Quin Quin is a comedic exploration of classic genres and styles that both entertained and challenged audiences and for a long time was Cuba's box-office champion. Espinosa's goal was cultural decolonization - the creation of a cinema that both demystifies itself and demystifies Cuban history. In this respect, he succeeded carving out a space for film practices alternative to Hollywood and mainstream cinema. At the same time, the Latin-American cinematic movement, to which Espinosa has been so central, has distinguished itself by avoiding the heavy-handed didactic style usually associated with socialist-realist art.

Garcia Espinosa has long been an advocate for the democratization and popularization of art and its means of production. Throughout the world, he is widely known as the leading theorist of Cuban cinema. Among his contributions to cinematic scholarship is the 1969 essay, "For an Imperfect Cinema," a major theoretical work that has helped define and make internationally relevant the scope of the new cinema in Latin America and Cuba. A lucid and provoking reflection on the practice of revolutionary filmmaking, the essay is also the basis of a search for a popular cinema that challenges the formal perfection of cinema in relation to the aesthetics of Western imperialism. This and the many other articles written by Garcia Espinosa have blazed a new trail for filmmakers throughout Latin America.

Over the course of his career, Espinosa has developed strong connections with Latin American filmmakers from many countries. His most recent work, Enredando Sombras, is an impressive collaboration with 12 other directors from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Puerto Rico that celebrates the centenary of Latin American Cinema. He has been highly instrumental in the development of a dynamic and prolific film community in Cuba. Despite the economic challenges of making movies today, the Cuban film community continues to passionately address the dramatic social and political changes affecting the country. Julio Garcia Espinosa is a powerful creative force of this community, an independent thinker and an inspiration to young filmmakers around the world.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you, Julio Garcia Espinosa, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.