Friday 27 August 2010

Soy Cuba ... Soy Infrarrojo

In the early 1960s there was a curious collaboration between the Cuban and Russian film industries resulting in an extraordinary movie called Soy Cuba (I am Cuba). The director was Mikhail Kalatozov, famous most probably for The Cranes Are Flying in 1957, and the director of photography was Sergey Urusevsky. The film is a cinematic tour de force, featuring several long single-take sequences which almost defy attempts to work out just how they were done.

This motion picture interests us at Infrared 100 because much of it was shot using infrared film, with characteristic bright foliage and dark skies. The background to this was explained by members of the crew in a Brazilian documentary about the making of Soy Cuba, and called the Siberian Mammoth, a reference to the film being lost and overlooked for many years.

Raúl Rodríguez, Assistant cameraman ...
Urusevsky wanted the film images to be a synthesis of Cuba. Each individual frame should shine like a sugar crystal, transforming the green of palm trees and sugarcane into tones of silver. To capture the Caribbean light he used an infrared negative which at that time was restricted solely to the use of the Soviet army.
Alexander "Sacha" Calzatti, Camera operator ...
It took me several months to go from Moscow to the city where the film negative was made. It was made in a factory that produced military material. It was made in the same factory that produced the negatives for filming the other side of the moon. The infrared film creates a very strong visual effect which is difficult to control. The trick here is that the negative is panchromatic. Some chemicals are added to make it more sensitive to infrared light.
While the pace of the film can be slow at times, there is no doubting its power. If cinematic gems appeal to you I recommend you check it out as the DVD is available, although you need to get the deluxe edition to see the documentary as well.

More background is in the Wikipedia entry and some extracts and a trailer are available on YouTube. I have to admit that Soviet infrared film is a bit of a blank for me. Apart from a colour infrared film tested by NASA, I have not seen any references to actual types. It would be fascinating to see the negatives of this movie and find out just what this stock was called.

I will be discussing the movie and showing a brief extract at the Broadcasting with InvisibleLight session at IBC/Amsterdam on September 13th.