The Cuban Game

Feature Documentary – 2001
Directed by Manuel Martín Cuenca

For the Cuban people, basaeball is more than just a national sport. Even though it was imported from the United States more than a century and a half ago, over the years the Cubans converted it into a basic element of their identity. “La Pelota”, the name which is given to baseball in Cuba, has been the main catalyst of the country´s emotions, its virtues and defects, its dreams and ambitions.

Beating the Americans was always a national obsession. When the revolution came in 1959, baseball became the only legal battlefield where differences could be resolved. Being a baseball player ceased being a profession and became a political responsibility, which over the past forty years, has generated heroism and glory, but also despair and “betrayal”.

EL JUEGO DE CUBA tells a little bit about that stoy and about its protagonists: the Cuban baseball players. Humble people who went on to the baseball field for the first time with the hope of becoming stars, but the times in which they were living meant that they had to make decisions, the consequences of which often went far beyond sports. They had to decide between being heroes or traitors, between winning a lor or loosing everything.

In analysing what has talen place inside and outside the baseball stadiums during the last 40 years, we are able to recreate the illusions and hopes of a whole country and to follow the historical event, without the adornment of the official speeches, but with the humility of those who where in the front line: Bay of Pigs, the economic embargo, the victory at Cerro Pelado, the failure of the sugar cane harvest in 1970, the Mariel exodus, the fall of the Berlin wall, the Special Period and exile in Miami.

EL JUEGO DE CUBA tells us what has happened during those years, when baseball was in a permanent entrenchment at both sides of the Straits of Florida. And it starts by telling of the first hope of reconciliation: the visit to Cuba in 1999 by a professional American team, the first since 1959.

Cast:

Mercedes Sampietro (narration)
Jorge Perrugorría (Actor)
Ismael Renzoli (to Dir. Rebel Radio)
Leonardo Padura (writer)

Roberto G. Echevarría (Professor Yale University)
Martín Cabas Pereda (musician)
Jesús Napoli (musician)
Arnaldo González García (musician)
Agustín Suárez Portuondo (musician)
Felix Várela (musician)
Eddy Fernando Vaillont (musician)
Genaro Melero (baseball)
Mario Wad (baseball)
Curro Pérez (baseball)
Humberto Rodríguez (Minister of Sports)
Alfredo Street (baseball)
Toni González (baseball)
Fabio Ruiz (politician)
José Llanusa (former minister of Sports)
Curro Pérez Jr. (baseball)
Rosique (baseball)
Pedro Chávez (baseball)
Roberto Viñas (filmmaker)
Olegario Moreno (politician)
Daniel Díaz Torres (filmmaker)
Joaquín Ortega (Granma journalist)
Ariel Hidalgo (Professor philosophy)
Agustín Marquetti (baseball)
Barbaro Garvey (baseball)
Luis Alberto García (Actor)
Rey Vicente Anglada (baseball)
Euclides Rojas (baseball)
Sarvelio del Valle (Miami journalist)
Pachito Fernández (referee)
Robert Menéndez (congressman Naorteamericano)
Munini (baseball) Liván Hernández (baseball)
Antonio Pacheco (baseball)
“Duque” Hernández (baseball)
Omar Linares (baseball)

Director:
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Screenwriter:
Alejandro Hernández
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Executive Producer:
Belén Agosti
Eduardo Campoy

Production Manager:
Vivian Agüero
Lillian Hermida

Director of Photography:
Alfonso Parra
Rafael de la Uz

Editor:
Ángel Hernández Zoido

Original Soundtrack:
Álex García

Technical Specifications:

Filming format: Digital Betacam.
Projection Format: Digital Betacam.
Screen Format: 16/9 – 1:1.85
Color/B & N: Color
Runtime: 93 ‘
Language: Spanish

  • Director´s Comments

    In 1998 I was in the Sierra Maestra working with a group of Cuban documentalists, when they invited me to a game of baseball in the countryside. I told them I didn´t know anything about baseball and that I´d be bored, since I didn´t understand the game. But they persuaded me: “baseball it´s the most Cuban thing there is. In baseball you´ll find the real Cuba”.

    At first I didn´t believe them, but I went anyway. To my surprise, I discovered more than they´d promised. I discovered a true reflection of Cuba´s reality, a metaphor that made me understand many more things about Cuba that I´d been able to fund out in the previous months. That afternoon I also discovered a secret: Fidel Castro loves playing baseball and hates to loose, so he cheats. An old man who had played with Fidel on that field in the early days of the revolution told me that Fidel had cheated in order to win. Months later, while researching, I found plenty of evidence that confirmed this. And then I thought: What if we tried to go through Cuban history, and try to find out why the most North American sport is also the most Cuban sport…. And tell of the contradictions found in Cuba, its greatness and it miseries?

    During the following weeks I was so nervous thinking that I´d found a film, that I also had the directors worst nightmare: the though that someone had done it before. I searched in the film archives at the Cuban Film School and I sighed with relief: the film I was dreaming of had not been done by anyone. That was the start of everything: a dream. A gut feeling that wouldn´t go away.

    Manuel Martín Cuenca

  • Screenwriter´s Notes

    There´s a story by Borges about a group of cartographers who want to draw the most perfect map of the world and they become obsessed with it. After several years of constantly revising the map, the realize their mistake: the perfect map of the world doesn´t exist, because it would have to be the same size as the planet, on a 1/1 scale.

    I felt the same way when we finished the script and had to begin directing. We did research and interviewed people for months, and we felt increasingly convinced of what we wanted to tell, but it was all on paper. At that time I kept telling myself something very important: what isn´t in the camera, doesn´t exist. If we weren´t able to capture it in the camera´s frame, in the sound, we could easily be deceived by all the emotion we were feeling. Empathy is the worst enemy of a documentary team. You think you have it, because you felt it, but you can go home with nothing. We fought against that and put all our hearts in every minute of filming. Many times we felt exhausted, because I think that making a documentary doesn´t consist only of putting yourself on the spot and looking. You have to involve yourself with reality, you have to feel, listen as hard as you can, as if the sound were very far away to be captured with the camera: it´s in the heart of the people. And if we don´t use all our senses in listening to it, we´ll never hear it. Because that´s the important thing, emotion. Listening to heart beat. With this documentary I´m sure of one thing: it would have been impossible without the team with whom I worked. But also, everyday we shared the feeling that the film was being taken over by everyone who appeared in it: its protagonists. I believe that the way the film is right now, belongs to all Cuban baseball players and to Cuba. We did the job of bringing it to you, on the screen, like the explorer who brings a treasure from a faraway place. It would be unfair to claim this treasure as our own, since we all know to whom it belongs.

    For us, writing a script is rather like steering a place towards the runway. The difference between fiction and documentary is that in fiction the runway is always in front of you and well lit. With a documentary you know where you want to go, but you don´t see the runway until you are twenty meters from it. Until that momento you have to trust that the route you have in your head is the correct one. I think that a documentary, whatever its about, whatever it shows, has to start from a basic premise: it´s a story that needs to be told and therefore requires the same dramatic concept as a fiction film. This implies a search for emotion, tension, sympathy, hate, comprehension, sorrow. In short, a complicity with an audience who will always appreciate that you are talking to them about the Cold War or a climatic change or Maradona´s life as if you were telling a story.

    Alejandro Hernández and Manuel Martín Cuenca

  • Production Notes

    Producing a documentary means beginning with something vague that gradually starts to take shape. A finished script on which to base a production plan doesn´t exists. I would sum up the work involved in this production in two words: rigour and a lot of passion.

    Making productions for a world-wide audience is a good objective, specially from a commercial point of view, but most of the times they end up decaffeinated. In EL JUEVO DE CUBA, caffeine is in the original layout, where the audience is also the protagonist and they can draw their own conclusions. Not only do they enjoy themshelves but you give them a role and they can make the film their own.

    Maybe that.s what tolerance is a bit about.

    Belén Agosti (Executive Producer)

Synopsis

For the Cuban people, basaeball is more than just a national sport. Even though it was imported from the United States more than a century and a half ago, over the years the Cubans converted it into a basic element of their identity. “La Pelota”, the name which is given to baseball in Cuba, has been the main catalyst of the country´s emotions, its virtues and defects, its dreams and ambitions.

Beating the Americans was always a national obsession. When the revolution came in 1959, baseball became the only legal battlefield where differences could be resolved. Being a baseball player ceased being a profession and became a political responsibility, which over the past forty years, has generated heroism and glory, but also despair and “betrayal”.

EL JUEGO DE CUBA tells a little bit about that stoy and about its protagonists: the Cuban baseball players. Humble people who went on to the baseball field for the first time with the hope of becoming stars, but the times in which they were living meant that they had to make decisions, the consequences of which often went far beyond sports. They had to decide between being heroes or traitors, between winning a lor or loosing everything.

In analysing what has talen place inside and outside the baseball stadiums during the last 40 years, we are able to recreate the illusions and hopes of a whole country and to follow the historical event, without the adornment of the official speeches, but with the humility of those who where in the front line: Bay of Pigs, the economic embargo, the victory at Cerro Pelado, the failure of the sugar cane harvest in 1970, the Mariel exodus, the fall of the Berlin wall, the Special Period and exile in Miami.

EL JUEGO DE CUBA tells us what has happened during those years, when baseball was in a permanent entrenchment at both sides of the Straits of Florida. And it starts by telling of the first hope of reconciliation: the visit to Cuba in 1999 by a professional American team, the first since 1959.

Technical Data

Cast:

Mercedes Sampietro (narration)
Jorge Perrugorría (Actor)
Ismael Renzoli (to Dir. Rebel Radio)
Leonardo Padura (writer)

Roberto G. Echevarría (Professor Yale University)
Martín Cabas Pereda (musician)
Jesús Napoli (musician)
Arnaldo González García (musician)
Agustín Suárez Portuondo (musician)
Felix Várela (musician)
Eddy Fernando Vaillont (musician)
Genaro Melero (baseball)
Mario Wad (baseball)
Curro Pérez (baseball)
Humberto Rodríguez (Minister of Sports)
Alfredo Street (baseball)
Toni González (baseball)
Fabio Ruiz (politician)
José Llanusa (former minister of Sports)
Curro Pérez Jr. (baseball)
Rosique (baseball)
Pedro Chávez (baseball)
Roberto Viñas (filmmaker)
Olegario Moreno (politician)
Daniel Díaz Torres (filmmaker)
Joaquín Ortega (Granma journalist)
Ariel Hidalgo (Professor philosophy)
Agustín Marquetti (baseball)
Barbaro Garvey (baseball)
Luis Alberto García (Actor)
Rey Vicente Anglada (baseball)
Euclides Rojas (baseball)
Sarvelio del Valle (Miami journalist)
Pachito Fernández (referee)
Robert Menéndez (congressman Naorteamericano)
Munini (baseball) Liván Hernández (baseball)
Antonio Pacheco (baseball)
“Duque” Hernández (baseball)
Omar Linares (baseball)

Director:
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Screenwriter:
Alejandro Hernández
Manuel Martín Cuenca

Executive Producer:
Belén Agosti
Eduardo Campoy

Production Manager:
Vivian Agüero
Lillian Hermida

Director of Photography:
Alfonso Parra
Rafael de la Uz

Editor:
Ángel Hernández Zoido

Original Soundtrack:
Álex García

Technical Specifications:

Filming format: Digital Betacam.
Projection Format: Digital Betacam.
Screen Format: 16/9 – 1:1.85
Color/B & N: Color
Runtime: 93 ‘
Language: Spanish

Notes
  • Director´s Comments

    In 1998 I was in the Sierra Maestra working with a group of Cuban documentalists, when they invited me to a game of baseball in the countryside. I told them I didn´t know anything about baseball and that I´d be bored, since I didn´t understand the game. But they persuaded me: “baseball it´s the most Cuban thing there is. In baseball you´ll find the real Cuba”.

    At first I didn´t believe them, but I went anyway. To my surprise, I discovered more than they´d promised. I discovered a true reflection of Cuba´s reality, a metaphor that made me understand many more things about Cuba that I´d been able to fund out in the previous months. That afternoon I also discovered a secret: Fidel Castro loves playing baseball and hates to loose, so he cheats. An old man who had played with Fidel on that field in the early days of the revolution told me that Fidel had cheated in order to win. Months later, while researching, I found plenty of evidence that confirmed this. And then I thought: What if we tried to go through Cuban history, and try to find out why the most North American sport is also the most Cuban sport…. And tell of the contradictions found in Cuba, its greatness and it miseries?

    During the following weeks I was so nervous thinking that I´d found a film, that I also had the directors worst nightmare: the though that someone had done it before. I searched in the film archives at the Cuban Film School and I sighed with relief: the film I was dreaming of had not been done by anyone. That was the start of everything: a dream. A gut feeling that wouldn´t go away.

    Manuel Martín Cuenca

  • Screenwriter´s Notes

    There´s a story by Borges about a group of cartographers who want to draw the most perfect map of the world and they become obsessed with it. After several years of constantly revising the map, the realize their mistake: the perfect map of the world doesn´t exist, because it would have to be the same size as the planet, on a 1/1 scale.

    I felt the same way when we finished the script and had to begin directing. We did research and interviewed people for months, and we felt increasingly convinced of what we wanted to tell, but it was all on paper. At that time I kept telling myself something very important: what isn´t in the camera, doesn´t exist. If we weren´t able to capture it in the camera´s frame, in the sound, we could easily be deceived by all the emotion we were feeling. Empathy is the worst enemy of a documentary team. You think you have it, because you felt it, but you can go home with nothing. We fought against that and put all our hearts in every minute of filming. Many times we felt exhausted, because I think that making a documentary doesn´t consist only of putting yourself on the spot and looking. You have to involve yourself with reality, you have to feel, listen as hard as you can, as if the sound were very far away to be captured with the camera: it´s in the heart of the people. And if we don´t use all our senses in listening to it, we´ll never hear it. Because that´s the important thing, emotion. Listening to heart beat. With this documentary I´m sure of one thing: it would have been impossible without the team with whom I worked. But also, everyday we shared the feeling that the film was being taken over by everyone who appeared in it: its protagonists. I believe that the way the film is right now, belongs to all Cuban baseball players and to Cuba. We did the job of bringing it to you, on the screen, like the explorer who brings a treasure from a faraway place. It would be unfair to claim this treasure as our own, since we all know to whom it belongs.

    For us, writing a script is rather like steering a place towards the runway. The difference between fiction and documentary is that in fiction the runway is always in front of you and well lit. With a documentary you know where you want to go, but you don´t see the runway until you are twenty meters from it. Until that momento you have to trust that the route you have in your head is the correct one. I think that a documentary, whatever its about, whatever it shows, has to start from a basic premise: it´s a story that needs to be told and therefore requires the same dramatic concept as a fiction film. This implies a search for emotion, tension, sympathy, hate, comprehension, sorrow. In short, a complicity with an audience who will always appreciate that you are talking to them about the Cold War or a climatic change or Maradona´s life as if you were telling a story.

    Alejandro Hernández and Manuel Martín Cuenca

  • Production Notes

    Producing a documentary means beginning with something vague that gradually starts to take shape. A finished script on which to base a production plan doesn´t exists. I would sum up the work involved in this production in two words: rigour and a lot of passion.

    Making productions for a world-wide audience is a good objective, specially from a commercial point of view, but most of the times they end up decaffeinated. In EL JUEVO DE CUBA, caffeine is in the original layout, where the audience is also the protagonist and they can draw their own conclusions. Not only do they enjoy themshelves but you give them a role and they can make the film their own.

    Maybe that.s what tolerance is a bit about.

    Belén Agosti (Executive Producer)

Filmography

Production Company´s Filmography
Director´s Filmography
Development