Pedal-powered film

A documentary worked on by Jennifer Ruth Hosek (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures) will premiere at the prestigious International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana in December.

Rodando en La Habana: bicycle stories, a film from Cuban director Jaime Santos, explores the cultural meaning of bicycling and community in Havana. Dr. Hosek, who is cross-appointed to Film and Media Studies, served as associate director and research co-investigator on the film.

Jennifer Ruth Hosek (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures) and the film crew went into the streets of Havana to tell the stories of people and their relationship with the bicycle. The documentary, Rodando en La Habana: bicycle stories, will premiere at the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana in December.

Dr. Hosek, who is associated with the Queen’s/University of Havana exchange, met Mr. Santos through the Young Filmmakers’ Festival in Havana. After discovering their mutual interest in bicycles, they decided to collaborate on the film. 

Dr. Hosek says she’s excited for the film to debut at the international film festival in Havana.

“To screen the film in Havana is amazing. It’s such a pleasure to get the film’s message out there to people. I really hope the documentary awakens and reinvigorates bicycle culture in Havana,” she says.

The documentary focuses on the aftermath of the “Special Period” in Cuba when the country had to survive without Soviet petroleum following the collapse of the USSR. With automotive transportation prohibitive, the Cuban government imported more than a million Chinese bicycles to aid survival on the island.

After an intense period of struggle between 1991-96, the economy began to improve. Buses came back on the road, and the car culture that had been dormant since the 1950s reawakened. Through the lives of five Havana cyclists, the documentary tells a people’s history of “sole-powered communities” from the 1990s to the present.

“It seems like Cuba is paying lip service to its bicycle heritage. People are frustrated. Spare parts are expensive and the public infrastructure is inadequate,” Dr. Hosek says. “The people in the film express this feeling that the government is turning its back on the bicycling legacy that grew out of the Special Period, which was unique for a Latin American country.”

With a small team working on the film, Dr. Hosek was exposed to all aspects of documentary production. She set up interviews, created storyboards, and was heavily involved with the filming and editing. She did the credits and subtitling at Queen's with the help of her work-study student Aaron Tang. Student editor Travis Rhee and master’s student Stéfy McKnight are also involved in getting the materials ready for the festival.

“It was just an incredible learning experience. Working on this documentary will make me a much more active viewer and improve my writing and thinking about film,” she says.

The Kingston debut of the film will happen during the Queen’s Cuban Studies Showcase on Thursday, Nov. 19 at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. In addition to Dr. Hosek’s film, Jessica Burgess, MA’15, will screen her film Por Amor al Arte/For the Love of Art: Young filmmakers in Havana. Zaira Zarza, a newly minted PhD in Cultural Studies, will share a piece from her doctoral curation on film from the Cuban diaspora. 

Dr. Zarza is originally from Cuba and served as a translator for Queen’s students who travel to the Latin American country annually for DEVS 305 Cuban Society and Culture. Ms. Burgess was a student on that exchange. Dr. Zarza subsequently received the prestigious Trillium fellowship to study at Queen's.  

“Many exciting research and creative opportunities have been facilitated by the exchange agreement between Queen’s and the University of Havana, and I look forward to pursuing more collaborations in the future,” Dr. Hosek says.

View a clip from the documentary


Original  story