Nationality: Cuban. Born: Havana, 1943. Education: Conservatory of Music, Havana. Career: Assistant director at Instituto Cubano del Arte e industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC), under Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Jorge Fraga, and Agnes Varda, from 1961; directed first film, Ire a Santiago, 1964; shot and edited first feature, De cierta manera, 1974; original negative, damaged in processing, restored under supervision of Gutiérrez Alea and Rigoberto Lopez, 1974–76. Died: Of acute asthma, 2 June 1974.
Films as Director:
Ire a Santiago
Excursion a Vueltabajo
Y tenemos sabor
En la otra isla
Isla del tesero
Poder local, poder popular
Un documental a proposito del transito
Atencion prenatal; Ano uno
Sobre horas extras y trabajo voluntario
De cierta manera (One Way or Another)
On GÓMEZ: book—
Chanan, Michael, The Cuban Image, London, 1985.
On GÓMEZ: articles—
Chijona, Geraldo, and Rigoberto López, in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 93.
Burton, Julianne, "Individual Fulfillment and Collective Achievement," in Cinéaste (New York), January 1977.
Burton, Julianne, "Introduction to the Revolutionary Cuban Cinema," and Carlos Galiano, "One Way or Another: The Revolution in Action," in Jump Cut (Chicago), December 1978.
Lesage, Julia, "One Way or Another: Dialectical, Revolutionary, Feminist," in Jump Cut (Chicago), May 1979.
"Special Issue," Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 127, 1989.
Paranagua, P.A., "Pioneers: Women Filmmakers in Latin America," in Framework (London), no. 37, 1989.
Paranagua, P.A., "Cineastas pioneras de America Latina," in Dicine (Mexico), no. 37, November 1990.
* * *
We shall never know all that Sara Gómez might have given to us. We have her one feature film, the marvelous De cierta manera, and a few short documentaries to indicate what might have been had she lived beyond the age of thirty-one. But we will never really know all that this prodigiously talented black woman was capable of.
Sara Gómez could be seen as prototypical of the new Cuban directors. Entering the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) at an early age, she worked as assistant director for various cineastes, including Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, whose influence marked her work as it has so many young directors. During a ten-year period (1964–74) she fulfilled the usual apprenticeship among Cuban cineastes by directing documentary films. Documentaries are seen as an important training ground for Cuban directors because they force them to focus on the material reality of Cuba and thus emphasize the use of cinema as an expression of national culture. As Gutiérrez Alea noted, "the kind of cinema which adapts itself to our interests, fortunately, is a kind of light, agile cinema, one that is very directly founded upon our own reality." This is precisely the kind of cinema Sara Gómez went on to produce, beginning work on De cierta manera in 1974 and finishing the editing of the film shortly before her death of acute asthma.
Gómez's early training in documentaries and the influence of Gutiérrez Alea is evident in De cierta manera. The film combines the documentary and fiction forms so inextricably that they are impossible to disentangle. Through this technique, she emphasized the material reality that is at the base of all creative endeavor and the necessity of bringing a critical perspective to all forms of film.
In choosing this style, which I call "dialectical resonance," Gómez appeared to follow Gutiérrez Alea's example in the superb Memories of Underdevelopment. But there is a crucial difference between the two films—a difference that might be said to distinguish the generation of directors who came of age before the triumph of the revolution (e.g. Gutiérrez Alea) from those who have grown up within the revolution. In spite of its ultimate commitment to the revolutionary process, Memories remains in some ways the perspective of an "outsider" and might be characterized as "critical bourgeois realism." However, De cierta manera is a vision wholly from within the revolution, despite the fact that every position in the film is subjected to criticism—including that of the institutionalized revolution, which is presented in the form of an annoyingly pompous omniscient narration. Thus, the perspective of Gomez might be contrasted to that of Memories by calling it "critical socialist realism." The emphasis on dialectical criticism, struggle, and commitment is equally great in both films, but the experience of having grown up within the revolution created a somewhat different perspective.
Despite its deceptively simple appearance—a result of being shot in 16mm on a very low budget—De cierta manera is the work of an extremely sophisticated filmmaker. Merely one example among many of Gómez's sophistication is the way in which she combined a broad range of modern distanciation techniques with the uniquely Cuban tropical beat to produce a film that is simultaneously rigorously analytic and powerfully sensuous—as well as perhaps the finest instance to date of a truly dialectical film. Although we are all a little richer for the existence of this work, we remain poorer for the fact that she will make no more films.