Cuba is excluded from YouTube’s digital world map. What happens behind the closed doors of this paleopolitical Internet Island is of no concern to YouTube and, in consequence, nor to the audiovisual eyes of the world. The clever papal slogan from the past century and millennium resonates now like a coarse cathedral comedy script: “Let Cuba open itself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba…” Pope John Paul II declared in Havana.
So there seems to be nothing subliminal in the censorship of the current Life in a Day contest, organized by YouTube to document one day of life: specifically, this July 24. The countless scenes shot last Saturday of the planet Earth, in any language, with a high definition professional camera or a cellphone, can be sent by their authors until today, July 31, to the YouTube channel created especially for the marathon.
Although there is no financial remuneration involved, after their work is selected the finalists will be edited into a feature-length documentary directed by Kevin McDonald and produced by Ridley Scott, who plan to premiere it at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011.
The theme is open, but the suggestions of the YouTube chef are quite chic: What do you love? What do you fear? What makes you laugh? What’s in your pocket? Is there a story behind any of the objects? There is room for the “ordinary” (a sunrise, a neighborhood soccer game) as well as the “extraordinary” (a baby’s first steps, a wedding, the reaction to the loss of a loved one).
So, a young woman in Havana thought there would also be room for Cuba. Elena Victoria Molina, 21, a graduate of Onelio Jorge Cardoso’s Narrative Techniques Workshop, a student of Audiovisual Communication at the Superior Art Institute, co-editor of the independent literary magazine 33 and 1/3, and participant in many freelance projects, took YouTube’s propaganda at face value.
Molina has watched YouTube for three years and, in her own words, she thought, “If I did well I could be among those selected, and it would be a magnificent opportunity to talk about daily life in Cuba from a personal point of view.” So she prepared to compete, “To express my opinions about my country, my society, my life, in a framework that would ensure that more people would see our reality and what life looks like from a Cuban perspective.”
Her raw material (they specified unedited video), recorded on July 24, 2010, in an apartment in the vicinity of the Plaza of the Revolution, showed her a bit oblivious, with her boyfriend, “lying around in bed, reading Virginia Woolf, writing in my diary, while on TV the country was enmeshed in the preparations for the July 26 celebration, and some neighbors had hung July 26 flags from their houses. I thought it showed something very common in Cuba: the contrast between the private and the public worlds, that we have a different sensibility, because we live a dual image, what we are collectively, and what we are individually. And it’s difficult to maintain the intimate space of the home when the outside is constantly invading, particularly around national anniversaries of the Revolution.”
But it turned out YouTube’s invitation included a clause that froze her enthusiastic rush to this kind of amateur Oscar lottery: Who can participate in Life in A Day? Anyone over 18 can send footage, except citizens or residents of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Syria and Sudan, and other people and entities limited by the United States’ program of export controls and sanctions.
Commenting to this reporter, the young Molina (who also made comments in protest on several Cuban blogs, on her Facebook account, and even on the censored contest’s YouTube channel) remarked, “To read that was very disappointing, that a law closes one of the few spaces for expression. It’s an unjust ban that severely limits the very purpose of the project, if the idea is to show a truly ‘normal day’ from the most diverse experiences of the globe.
“What we call a typical day is very different from other parts of the world, given that our life has been shaped in a peculiar way under the system we live in. It’s absurd and frustrating that U.S. laws, supposedly established to support freedom, in practice restrict our freedom of expression and block Cuban citizens from communicating with the world. The American embargo affects individuals who have nothing to do with the government. I feel I have been discriminated against.”
Of the millions of visualizations that human beings ritually watch on YouTube, none will clash, in this “historic cinematic experiment” with the view of 21-year-old Elena Victoria Molina.
The “information capsule for the future,” like a postnational Trojan Horse, will lack any Cubans in its gigabyte guts. We Cubans will star in another alien saga of those who still haven’t come out of the communist closet, in this case because the laws of a democracy don’t want us to. In dramatic terms, we are not even the Other.
“It must be personal, that’s what we’re looking for,” commented the director Ridley Scott, in a videoclip about this project to take the aesthetic of crowd-sourcing to the limit. This throws enough literary light on the nature of we non-persons who live in Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Syria and Sudan. But it doesn’t matter, some proxy will absolve us. For now, the epitaph of that already remote film, Blade Runner, is being rewritten, even before the first showing of this unfortunately despotic documentary: “Like tears in YouTube…”
The thousand and one YouTube Community Standards, so concerned about protecting us from the pornography and realistic violence that daily gnaw at our civilization, have given Cuba a cultural lesson with this abusive Shift-Delete: “Let Cuba close itself to the world and let the world delete Cuba..”