Dir: Vicente Ferraz.Brazil. 2004. 90mins.
Saddled with an unhelpfuland slightly repellent title, I Am Cuba, The Siberian Mammoth isn'tactually a wildlife film but an intelligent making-of documentary which alsomanages to examine a particularly-interesting slice of Cold War history.
And although it can getbogged down in its own minutae, Mammoth is fascinating enough to see itmake small inroads beyond the festivalcircuit - it competes in Sundance's World Cinema Documentary sidebar later thismonth - while television sales seemhighly likely. It traces the history of Soviet director Mikhail Kalatosov'strip to Cuba in 1963 to make the colossal Soy Cuba, a lyrically-stunningpiece of work which was destined to fail in both countries and only be resurrectedin the 1990s (Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese endorsed MilestoneFilms' 1993 video release of the film).
First-time Braziliandirector Ferraz, who studied film in Cuba, arrives in Havana with a small crewto track Kalatosov's (The Cranes Are Flying) journey - agruellingly-ambitious 14-month shoot complete with dazzling tracking shotswhich are excerpted here and serve as a reminder of the Russian's genius. WhileFerraz probably interviews too many of the film's original crew, the story heuncovers remains intriguing throughout, involving Fidel's decision to set upCuba's film institute ICAIC a mere three months after the revolution, propelledby Che, and to set in motion a great Cuban-Soviet communist co-production whicheventually shot during the heightened tensions of the Cuban missile crisis.
It's this added politicaldimension - the excitement of which is well captured here - which gentlypropels Soy Cuba out of the film-student arena and into wider, althoughstill specialised, audiences. Scenes interviewing the Cuban crew arereminiscent of The Buena Vista Social Club, while the documentary getsan added impetuous when Soy Cuba's starkly-Soviet imagery fails to gelwith a Caribbean audience more culturally in tune with Brazil's cinema novo movementand the film is quickly buried
Soy Cuba's rediscovery makes a pleasant ending for thisdocumentary which could also act as an intro to Kalatosov for the uninitiated.But The Siberian Mammoth's unappealing title, which makes sense towardsthe end of the piece, could still remain the biggest stumbling block inattracting a wider audience.
Prod: Isabel Martinez
Prod co: Tres Mundos Prods, Urca Filmes
Exec prod: Raccord Producoes
Int'l sales: Grupo Novo de Cinema e TV
Cine: Tareq Daoud, Vicente Ferraz
Eds: Dull Janiel, Mair Tavares
Music: Jenny Padron