Sunday 13 May 2018

Jana Bokova, 'Havana', 1990

Jana Bokova, 'Havana', 1990

With little notice - and little fanfare - an extraordinary documentary from 1990 turned up on BBC4 television last Friday, May 11, 2018.  Jana Bokova's, 'Havana'.

For those with access to the BBC iplayer it is still available for a further month.

I don't want to be involved in campaigns - but surely there is a better way of giving us access to important BBC work of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - in this case, the important documentaries of the ARENA series?

What is important about these works is not just skill, technique, subject matter - but the ways in which these documentaries have become part of the dialogue between generations.

Filmed in Havana, and in Little Havana, Miami, in 1989, Jana Bokova's documentary is purest Bokova - the patience, the unblinking eye, the interest in ordinary, and complex, lives, the respectful regard...  And the material knitted together, most skilled film-making, with many different levels.  Most obviously, in 'Havana', the careful use of the words of the Cuban poets, the respectful use of the words - the words are given their own screen time.

Jana Bokova's 'Havana' has since become best known for the interviews with the exiled Cuban poet, Reinaldo Arenas.  The story is that a bootleg - it shouldn't have to be a bootleg - fell into the hands of Julian Schnabel, and inspired his 2000 movie, 'Before Night Falls',  starring Javier Bardem...  And now we can put the Bardem performance alongside the original Bokova interview...

There is this helpful article about Reinaldo Arenas on the New Yorker web site...

The Literature of Uprootedness: An Interview with Reinaldo Arenas
By Ann Tashi Slater December 5, 2013

Some Julian Schnabel links...

Some Jana Bokova links - but search the web...

Going back to the 1990 Jana Bokova documentary, 'Havana' - and how marvellous to be able to see it again...  There is always a sequence in a Jana Bokova documentary when the men being interviewed - usually older men, but still afflicted with that roving eye - become fascinated by the pretty girl behind the camera.  Whom we never see.

You hear her voice, and you can see the effect.

Patrick O'Sullivan
May 2018

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