DOCUMENTARY FEATURE UNFINISHED SPACES, A TRANSCENDENT TALE OF VISIONARY ARCHITECTURE IN POST-REVOLUTIONARY CUBA, SCREENS AT DOCUWEEKS™ THIS AUGUST TO QUALIFY FOR OSCAR® CONSIDERATION
Directed by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, the film has its East Coast premiere at IFC Center in New York City
Born of utopian dreams following the revolution, Cuba’s National Art Schools represent an epic architectural achievement that nearly vanished within the country’s tumultuous past. The fate of the five schools – one each for modern dance, the plastic arts, the dramatic arts, music and ballet, all built on a former golf course – came to mirror the complex history of Cuba itself, as well as the individual stories of the three idealistic young architects who designed them.
Ajna Films and The Room present UNFINISHED SPACES, a visually striking documentary feature by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray that moves beyond the usual politically charged arguments surrounding Cuba to chart the bittersweet experiences of the three architects – Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garratti and Roberto Gottardi – and the fragile legacy of their creations. UNFINISHED SPACES also includes intimate, never-before-seen footage of Fidel Castro, showing his devotion to creating a worldwide showcase for art.
UNFINISHED SPACES screens during DocuWeeks™, at IFC Center in New York City (Aug. 12- Sept. 1), and Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in Los Angeles (Aug. 19-Sept. 8), making it Academy Award® eligible. In June, the film had its critically acclaimed world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The building of the schools began in the heady wake of the revolution, byproducts of a notorious golf outing by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Greatness, not limitation, was in the air, and Castro wanted everything in Cuba to be the best in the world. The responsibility for fulfilling this mission was turned over to Porro, Garratti and Gottardi, a Cuban and two Italians, who had met while working in Venezuela and were eager to be part of the artistic rebellion that was taking place. Their designs were implemented almost simultaneously as they were drawn. As the lush grounds of the golf course gave way to the organic structures of the art schools, classes were being held, a fortuitous, if chaotic, situation. Artists and architects, students and construction workers were brought together in a whirlwind of creativity. It was a romantic time, a “beautiful experiment” fueled by the liberating effects of the revolution, when young women had their first taste of equality and sexual freedom exploded.
The architects decided that their designs must be integrated with the varied, unusual landscape of the golf course. Even dramatic events such as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which resulted in the U.S.-led blockade and a shortage of building supplies, influenced the architects’ work as they chose to use natural materials such as locally-produced bricks and terra cotta tiles, with Catalan vaults that required special training for the masons playing a central role in the structures. The surroundings inspired sensuous curvilinear forms, and unambiguously female details were married to the practical need for classrooms, studios and stages.
As Castro and Cuba became more closely aligned with the Soviet Union and dependent on its support, ideological changes foreshadowed a bleak future for the still unfinished schools. Progressive architecture was seen as a bourgeois pretension and the Ministry of Construction began to promote the Soviet model of functionality and pre-fabrication. “Non-productive architecture” was halted, and a deep philosophical divide grew among Cuban architects. Porro would eventually leave for Paris and Garratti would return to Italy, while Gottardi would remain, restricted primarily to teaching architecture at a university and designing small, unbuilt projects. Classes continued, but the incomplete campuses of the National Schools were gradually reclaimed by nature, taking on a surreal beauty as the buildings were overtaken by vegetation. The architecture of Porro, Garratti and Gottardi was disparaged critically within Cuba, physically neglected and the story of the schools largely forgotten.
In the spring of 2001, the filmmakers first visited the site of the National Art Schools. After touring the campus, they met Gottardi, who carried with him a file of old photographs, press clippings and weathered documents, and were taken with the architect’s continuing passion and devotion to the project. In an essay at MovingPicturesNetwork.com, Nahmias and Murray described Gottardi as a “modern- day Don Quixote, whose creative visions were ahead of his time and larger than the world around him.” They decided they could not pass up the opportunity to follow him and his fellow architects, Porro and Garratti, as they embarked on an important final journey in the life of their work. According to the filmmakers, UNFINISHED SPACES is as much about nature and human nature as it is about architecture. It depicts the organic aging and inevitable decay of all people, places and politics over time.”
Shooting in Venice, Milan and Paris, as well as Cuba, Nahmias and Murray spent eight years doing interviews and collecting images, and two more in post-production. “While our connections with the subjects quickly developed, it took years for us to cultivate a relationship with the Cuban authorities who would allow us to film on the heavily guarded site of this national architectural treasure.” Over the course of 50 years, this narrative has taken many dramatic turns and the two directors seeUNFINISHED SPACES becoming part of that ongoing arc. “By exposing these buildings and their stories to a wider international audience, UNFINISHED SPACES will play a critical role in the shaping of the future of the story it tells.”
Alysa Nahmias is founder and executive director of Ajna Films. UNFINISHED SPACES is her feature-directing debut. She has received numerous grants and awards from government agencies and private foundations, including the New York State Council on the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, and the Graham Foundation. Nahmias holds a Masters degree in architecture (M.Arch) from Princeton University and a B.A. from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
UNFINISHED SPACES also marks the feature-directing debut for Benjamin Murray. In addition to directing, Murray is a producer and digital artist, who started his post-production company, The Room, in 2010 and currently partners with Deluxe Entertainment to provide online editorial and visual effects services. His regular clients include major networks and numerous independent production companies. Murray’s recent projects include: “No Direction Home,” directed by Martin Scorsese;“Capitalism: A Love Story,” directed by Michael Moore; “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town,” directed by Thom Zimny; “Client 9,” directed by Alex Gibney; “Reagan,” directed by Eugene Jarecki; “Fog of War,” directed by Errol Morris; “My Architect,” directed by Nathaniel Kahn; “Born Into Brothels,” directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman; and “Once In a Lifetime,” directed by Paul Crowder. Murray holds a BFA in Film and Television Production from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
An Ajna Films production; directed by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray; co-producers, Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray; director of photography, Benjamin Murray; editors, Kristen Nutile, Alex Minnick; composer, Giancarlo Vulcano; executive producer for Latino Public Broadcasting, Luis Ortiz.
The International Documentary Association (IDA) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that was founded in 1982 to support documentary filmmaking worldwide. At IDA, we believe that the power and artistry of the documentary are vital to cultures and societies globally, and we exist to serve the needs of those who create this art form. Our mission is to provide community, education, specific support services, opportunities and related resources to our clients, the documentary filmmakers.