Sustainability Stories: Cuba

Really interesting collection of shorts from Cuba Platform and Claudia Claremi’s The Woodland.

The Woodland is this really beautiful short film, showing a grandpa out walking with his young granddaughter in the woods of Cuba. He encourages her curiosity and engagement with the forest, its trees, shrubs and plants. She plays with the ferns that drop their leaves when touched, giving each one a bop and saying, “Bedtime!” It is so sweet. The grandfather tells her all about the huge variety of trees and plants, their medicinal uses, their natures and their resilience. He describes himself as a resilient tree, for all that has befallen him in his long lifetime, yet here he is standing. He describes the difference between good and bad trees, those whose properties are healing rather than poisonous. He fills his granddaughter with all his wisdom and knowledge, seeing in her the intelligence and compassion which will put it to good use, and carry it on to the future. He says he thinks she will grow up to be a good tree.

Cuba Platform’s collection of short films focus on different people’s implementation of environmentally conscious practices into their own lives. The first looks at Velo Cuba, a bike shop run by women, who promote and encourage cycling as sustainable travel. They sell bikes on a sliding scale according to means, and offer free kids classes, teaching local kids how to cycle. They offer bike rentals and do repairs. Everything is geared around showing how cycling can be the best solution, both environmentally and financially.

The second looks at a woman who got into recycling paper. Almost by accident, she was looking for a job that would allow her to stay close to home after the birth of her first child, and she ended up making paper products, like piñatas and pokes and what have you. When a client suggested she use recycled paper, she had to educate herself on the whole process. But she got really into it, building her own workshop in her back yard, and ended up focusing solely on that. It was really interesting to see the process. I’d never seen how you make recycled paper by hand before, but it’s less daunting than you’d expect. A process more about patience than fancy equipment. She effectively puts soaking wet paper scraps in a blender with the glue from boiled rice. Then empties it into a basin and sifts the mulch onto a thin frame. Then comes the tricky part, flattening and squeezing out the water, for which she uses cloth and a vice press. Once it’s sufficiently dry, she hangs it up from the workshop rafters to return to that crisp paper you recognise. It’s been so successful she’s been able to hire her retired aunt and uncle to help her cope with demand. She looks really pleased, obviously getting a real sense of satisfaction from what she does.

The third looks at a carwash run with recycled water. Think of how much water is used in carwashing. This carwash uses filtered rainwater as well as recycled water to reduce the amount of water consumed. They also recycle oil, ensuring that car oil doesn’t just end up being poured down a drain and ending up in the sea. 1 litre of oil can pollute 100 litres of ocean water, so it all makes a difference in keeping Cuba’s seas healthy.

The fourth film is about an academic who decides to put into practice what he’s been researching about agriculture. He becomes a farmer, starting from scratch. He learns everything he knows about it from his 70-year-old neighbour, who shares with him a wealth of practical knowledge. The auld yin even knows the best place to dig a well, and helps him chip it out with a pickaxe over the course of 7 months. I mean, it really does put you to shame to see this older guy, still lithe and wiry at 70, smash through rock with a pickaxe, while you watch it thinking about how stiff you’ll be getting out this chair. Like, this guy’s from a generation made of sterner stuff. He looks like the kinda guy who, if a young yin jumped him, they’d just wake up with no memory of even being hit. Even elderly, pure muscle.

The last film is about a couple who open an organic urban farm together. They talk about their journey to bring a successful yield, how their early days were full of trial and error. Sometimes it seems that no sooner do you have a solution to one problem, then another turns up. They had to figure out solutions to pests, weeds and moulds, all of whom were plaguing their first crops. But as time went on, a mixture of old knowledge and inspired solutions help them on their way to their now booming venture.

All these stories share the resourcefulness of the Cuban people, fixing problems and finding solutions with what is to hand. It is also about the conscientious conduct of ordinary people who have a sense of responsibility towards their communities today and the generations in the future. I loved the way it felt like we were maybe just turning a corner in Havana and stopping to hear the story of the person working there. A slice of life with environmental themes.