Coming to theatres (as part of the International Documentary Association’s Oscar-qualifying DocuWeeks) this Friday, August 12 (NYC’s IFC Center) and next Friday, August 19 (LA’s Laemmle Sunset 5): UNFINISHED SPACES
Directors Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray make their documentary feature debut with their exploration of Cuba’s National Art Schools utopian architectural project. The film had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival this past June, and takes part in DocuWeeks this month to qualify for Oscar consideration.
The film tells the story of the schools from the perspectives of the architects who designed them. Conceived by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the project was to be a symbol of the Cuban Revolution, a utopian space that would provide young artists, performers, and musicians with the best learning institution in the world to perfect their talents. Forced into construction prematurely, the architects tried to meet their mandate, but before the structures were completed, sentiments toward the project, and the individualistic visions of architects in general, shifted completely, with pre-fabricated, utilitarian Soviet style architecture coming to the fore instead. Funding cancelled, the buildings remained unfinished, though students made use of them anyway. Decades later, Castro invites the original architects to complete the project and save the dilapidated structures. Nahmias and Murray unearth a fascinating bit of architectural history set against the backdrop of the early years of the Cuban Revolution and its resultant bureaucracy. They make great use of archival footage from the period, showing a different side of Cuba than is normally seen, and beautifully showcasing what could have been had the political winds not shifted against the art schools.