Fair Use in Cuba: Gordon Quinn's Report

Recently arrived back from Montreal via Cuba, two lucky interns sat down with Kartemquin's Artistic Director Gordon Quinn to talk about how the struggle to protect Fair Use in America struck a chord with young filmmakers of a communist country: apparently, the Revolution is alive and well, and super interested in copyright law.

This trip to Cuba was Gordon’s first since 1998, when he taught a one-month filmmaking workshop in St. Antonio Despaño. Gordon was brought to Cuba by Alex Halkin and the Americas Media Initiative, a program to build bridges between young Cuban and young American filmmakers. Accompanied by two American filmmakers, Sally Berger of MOMA and Anthony Weeks (Housekeeping), Gordon attended the Muestra Joven film festival in Havana and presented at ICAIC (Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos) to a group of young Cuban filmmakers.

Gordon spoke about the battle for Fair Use in America and screened clips from the Kartemquin catalog to illustrate his argument.  Fair Use is a legal term for the ability of filmmakers or other artists to appropriate other media (i.e. television broadcast or corporate logos) into their work.  For example, if you’re shooting a scene in a barbershop, and a song is playing over the radio, should you be able to use that captured audio as part of your film? Gordon has long been one of the leaders in a fight for artists to be able to participate in and utilize culture without legal backlash.

The young filmmakers of Cuba were, in turn, very interested in American “Fair Use.”  Though the state has traditionally owned most of what Cuban filmmakers produce, things are changing, and now more independent producers are seeking to have their works screened in other countries.  In order to do that you need a solid understanding of how copyright laws work internationally,  so the jovenes Cubanos listened intently as Gordon read, as he frequently does, Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

·       (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

·       (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Two slightly contradictory statements that vaguely define the ever-shifting nature of what media is legitimate to quote, satirize, or place in a historical context.

Says Gordon: "Hopefully, we will be able to see more documentaries coming out of Cuba, if this “stupid” blockade is ever lifted."  Nonetheless, Gordon was able to spread awareness of international copyright law as well as build connections between the Chicago documentary community and filmmakers in Cuba.  Not bad for a few days of work.

After meeting up with Leo Gilbert, Peter Gilbert’s son who is studying in Cuba via NYU, Gordon headed to Montreal, and then back to Chicago, where he regaled us with (and will continue to regale us with) his adventures overseas.

~ By Spring '12 interns John Fecile and Katie Prentiss. Photo credit: Sally Berger.