‘Kalatozov, Cuba, and the Missile Crisis,’ Tepper lecture celebrates 30th anniversary of Dobro Slovo honor society


Friday, April 12, the Russian, East European and Eurasian studies department welcomed Anthony Anemone, an emeritus professor from the New School for Public Engagement and Eugene Lang College, to give a Tepper lecture in Washington Hall. 

The event commemorated the 30th anniversary of the College of William and Mary’s chapter of Dobro Slovo, the national Slavic honor society. In his presentation titled “Kalatozov, Cuba, and the Missile Crisis,” Anemone delved into the pivotal role of art in the interactions between the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with a specific focus of the 1964 propaganda film, “Soy Cuba.”

Prior to his tenure at the New School, Anemone taught at the College from 1992 to 2006. He served as the director of both the Russian program within modern languages and literatures and the Russian and post-Soviet studies in global studies, while establishing the Russian House in 2002.

Many attendees, like Hunter White ’27, came to the talk out of a general curiosity of this period in history. 

“So, I am in a data science class that mixes Russian literature,” White said. “It’s my COLL100. It’s just part of our curriculum, but I have a particular interest in the Cold War era and Sovietology, so I figured I’d come and give a listen.”

Nicholas Sheer ’24, an Economics major Data Science minor, shared a similar sentiment.

“My professor recommended this one, just learning more about the Cuban Missile Crisis since I didn’t really have a proper education on it growing up and going into high school and the classes that I’ve taken so far,” Sheer said. “So, after going, I think I’m much more educated on the topic.”

Others came with the specific intent of learning more about “Soy Cuba,” a film with a modern cult following including American film directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. 

“Well, I was interested in the subject after seeing the film two days ago,” William Walton ’24 said. “I wanted to hear a professional, academic opinion on it because it’s definitely very artistic.”

“Soy Cuba,” produced in Cuba, is about the Cuban Revolution. Three of the most prominent Soviet artists of the post-Stalin period made the film: Mikhail Kalatozov, Sergei Urusevsky and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. To explain this film’s curious cultural context, Anemone began his talk by providing its significant political and historical context. 

“What I’d like to do today, in 40 minutes or so, is to tell you a story about a particular moment in time when cinema, politics and history converged in a particularly violent and threatening way,” Anemone said.

According to Anemone, the United States’ interest in Cuba first picked up after the United States intervened in the Spanish-American war to maintain Cuba’s independence. Decades later, in 1952, Fulgencio Batista led the Cuban Revolution and became the military dictator without losing U.S. support. In 1959, Fidel Castro took power and served as dictator for the next 60 years, putting an end to the Cuban Revolution.

The U.S.-Cuba relationship shifted when President Dwight Eisenhower withdrew U.S. support for Castro’s socialist government in 1960, following Castro’s controversial behavior during a visit to New York City.

The United States subsequently divested from Cuba, prompting the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies to step in with military and economic aid. A year later, President John F. Kennedy perceived their alliance as a great national security threat and ordered the infamous Bay of Pigs operation to dismantle Cuba’s government from within. After the failed coup attempt, Soviet influence in Cuba grew exponentially with “Soy Cuba” beginning production that same year.

“Shortly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, a few Soviet filmmakers and artists arrived in Havana to begin to work on what would be ‘I am Cuba,’” Anemone said.

For the latter half of his presentation, Anemone shifted his focus to an analysis of the film as an example of Russian-Cuban alignment in political interests and divergence in cultural and artistic values. 

The film was intended to showcase the success of the Cuban Revolution. However, its production took over 14 months and faced numerous challenges including language barriers, the absence of nearby film processing services equipped to handle Soviet film and severe weather events.

As a specifically Russian-Cuban propaganda film, “Soy Cuba” originally only had screenings in Havana and Moscow. Further, it was shelved shortly after due to its initially terrible reception. 

“The Cubans felt that, in general, Kalatozov failed to understand Cuban life [and] Cuban people,” Anemone said. “The image of the Cuban people in the Cuban revolution was touristic, inauthentic, words like that. Soviet critics, on the other hand, rejected precisely the part of the film that is Cuban life. That is, they rejected the stylistic, what they called ‘eccentricities,’ of the film.”

“Soy Cuba” remained a forgotten film until the 1990s, when it caught the attention of Scorcese and Coppola. They both became infatuated with its style, and in 1995, the two directors re-released “Soy Cuba” under their production company. Upon his own first viewing, Anemone was similarly struck by the film’s ability to capture the emotions surrounding a political revolution and inspired him to give this talk.

“‘Soy Cuba’ is a document of the emotions, the expectations, the beliefs and the dreams of people who lived, as all of us do, without knowing what the future would bring,” Anemone said.


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