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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Irene Rozsa, Film Studies

On the Edge of the Screen: Film Culture and Practices of Noncommercial Cinema in Cuba (1948-1966)

Date & time

Tuesday, December 17, 2019
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Room LB 362

Wheelchair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


The place of Cuban cinema in the film-historical canon is limited to the history of the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) founded in the early days of the Cuban Revolution, in 1959. This dissertation investigates the island’s film culture in the years prior, commonly referred to as the Republican period, to establish its contributions to post-revolutionary developments. I examine the practices of film culture and noncommercial cinema in Cuba, tracing their evolution from 1948 to 1966. I research the development of the film course offered at the University of Havana, and I explain the formative impact of film education on future film promoters, film critics, and filmmakers. I also document the distinct cine-club communities constituted around non-theatrical film exhibition, elucidating their role in the diversification of the 1950s film public and on the configuration of an identifiable art cinema audience. In addition, I provide background on the history of amateur filmmaking in the island, showing that in its beginnings, ICAIC preferred training amateurs rather than offering employment to experienced professionals who were not ideologically compatible with the institution’s outlook. Furthermore, I analyze the elements that contributed to ICAIC’s hegemonic position within the country’s cultural landscape, including their acquisition of material assets, their privileged access to mediated forms of public discourse, and their concerted strategies for transforming popular taste by means of film criticism, large-scale film viewing events, and centralized film programming. I argue that post-revolutionary institutionalized film culture was built upon its pre-revolutionary antecedents, and that it did not succeed in eliminating the multi-layered character of Cuban audiences. Instead, my investigation demonstrates the gradual formation of a new two-tier system in which elite and unsophisticated inclinations continued to coexist.

This study contributes to Cuban film historiography by restoring continuity to the island’s cinematic past. I challenge long-held perspectives that ignore or minimize the modernizing forces at play during the late Republican period. In adopting a more expansive conception of film history, one that is not strictly concerned with film production, but integrates exhibition, distribution, promotion, and knowledge dissemination, I establish multiple threads that connect pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary developments.

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