Drexel students will travel to Cuba this winter to participate in a three-credit course and film documentaries while working with professionals from the Escuela International de Cine y Television.
In December a small class of film students from Drexel University will get a chance to view Cuba through a lens. And in an opportunity that would have been impossible just a few decades ago, and a rarity even in recent years, they will be the ones directing its gaze. The Escuela International de Cine y Television, Cuba’s iconic film school, that counts Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez among its noted founders, recently formalized a relationship with Drexel to offer a two-week documentary filmmaking course in Havana this winter.
The Cuba Documentary Workshop, which will take place during the first two weeks of December, is the fruition of the new partnership between EICTV and Drexel.
“This is an incredible opportunity for students to experience the rich, vibrant cultural history of Cuba while developing their professional skills in a foreign country,” said Gerard Hooper, a teaching professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design who is teaching the course.
Hooper, whose contacts at EICTV helped seed the relationship with Drexel, documented a small piece of that cultural history when he filmed a documentary on the tradition of quinceanera celebrations in Havana just over 12 years ago.
“I have always been interested in Cuba because it is so close to us geographically, yet so very different culturally and politically,” Hooper said. “I’ve been hoping to bring students there for quite a while, so it’s quite exciting for me to be part of this partnership with EICTV for film students.”
The program has been in the works for more than nine months, but it got the final push it needed when President Obama announced a re-establishment of diplomatic ties to Cuba over the summer—thus restoring a relationship that had been defined by varying degrees of Cold War-era sanctions since the 1960s. The president had previously loosened restrictions on educational travel to Cuba in 2011, which allowed colleges and universities to offer for-credit study abroad courses in the country.
“We’d realized that it was just a matter of time before full international relations were restored with Cuba and more formal educational partnerships were formed,” said Julie Mostov, PhD, vice provost for Global Initiatives. “The fact that EICTV chose Drexel as one of its American educational partners is truly an honor.”
Founded in 1986 by Marquez and filmmakers Fernando Birri and Julio Garcia Espinosa, EICTV has steadily become a well-regarded international film school. Each year 40 students are selected from Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe to complete a three-year course in one of seven specialized filmmaking disciplines. Films by EICTV alumni have garnered recognition at many of the top international film festivals including Cannes and Sundance.
Drexel’s workshop, which runs concurrently with the Havana International Film Festival, is modeled after successful programs piloted by the University College of London and Canada’s Ryerson University with EICTV, The students will spend a day or two at EICTV, located in San Antonio de Los Banos, before moving to a location in colonial Old Havana for the duration of the program. The first week will consist of seminars, and location scouting to find the stories for their films. Each student will pitch a film idea to the class, Hooper and his counterpart at EICTV, Enrique Colina. And the group will pick the top two or three projects to shoot.
The second week will be spent filming, gathering archival footage and translating interviews with tech crews of professionals from EICTV. Hooper is looking for final post-production to take place during the spring term and the documentaries will be screened in Westphal’s URBN Annex Screening Room.
“We see this as the first step in a partnership that will continue to grow and develop with EICTV and other academic institutions in Cuba,” Mostov said.
The workshop is the latest addition to Westphal’s study-abroad offerings, which include opportunities in London, Tokyo, Rome and Sao Paolo.