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November 3, 2011

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Cuban Architect Ricardo Porro Attends the Opening of Unfinished Spaces at the Architecture & Design Film Festival in New York City

Posted by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, Co-Producers/Directors of Unfinished Spaces
Still from the film "Unfinished Spaces" by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, ©
Still from "Unfinished Spaces" by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray © 2011

Now in its third year, the Architecture and Design Film Festival has become a significant annual event in the design community. This year, in partnership with World Monuments Fund, the star of the opening night’s film Unfinished Spaces, architect Ricardo Porro, was able to attend. As directors of the film, we were overjoyed to watch Ricardo talk with audiences about his architecture and his life story.

We have known Ricardo for ten years, since we began making Unfinished Spaces after a trip to Cuba in 2001. On that trip, we visited the Cuban National Art Schools, which Ricardo, along with Vittorio Garatti and Roberto Gottardi, designed in the early 1960s. The National Art Schools—organic, modern, brick buildings—stood more or less in ruins, but they were still home to Cuba's best and brightest art students.

After touring the campus in 2001, we met architect Roberto Gottardi. Roberto brought with him an old file full of photographs and press clippings, weathered documents that illustrated the story of his most monumental architectural project, the first and most impressive construction of the Cuban Revolution.

Roberto struck us as a modern-day Don Quixote, whose creative visions were ahead of his time and larger than the world around him. The architect and his buildings paralleled the Cuban Revolution itself—from utopian vision to tragic ruin, and ultimately to an uncertain future.

We heard at that time that thanks to the World Monuments Watch and other foreign support for the buildings, that Fidel Castro had reclaimed them and the original architects, Roberto and his colleagues Ricardo Porro and Vittorio Garatti, were being given the opportunity to possibly finish their "opera prima."

We couldn't pass up the opportunity to follow Roberto, Ricardo, and Vittorio on the final leg of their emotional journey.

Our biggest challenge was maintaining a production quality in the film that would match the beauty of the Cuban environment and architecture that was our subject. Everything in Cuba is glowing and crumbling at the same time, so the camera had to capture sublime imagery without romanticizing it or falling into the traps of cliché.

Access was another challenge that, happily, we overcame. We had to patiently prove our intentions to gatekeepers on the island in order to obtain access to places and people that were generally off limits to filmmakers, especially a pair of North Americans. The Cuban National Art Schools, although once neglected by the Cuban government, have recently become a highly protected site. No foreign filmmakers or journalists had ever been given official permission to shoot there prior to Unfinished Spaces.

Much to our delight, audiences at the Architecture and Design Film Festival—and at screenings around the world since the world premiere in June 2011 at the Los Angeles Film Festival—have been moved by Unfinished Spaces. People who love architecture have responded overwhelmingly. Architects leave the theater praising the fact that the architecture is portrayed as a character rather than a static object. They appreciate how the creative process of architecture is made accessible for non-architects through the course of telling this character-driven story.

People who don't have a previous interest in architecture or Cuba have also been connecting emotionally to the story and wanting to know more about modern architecture and the history of Cuba. They feel a direct connection to Ricardo, Vittorio, and Roberto. That is truly gratifying for us as filmmakers. We love that a story about art can connect generations, transcend politics, and inspire everyone.