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Unfinished Spaces

Multi-layered story of Cuba's National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro's Revolution.

A printer-friendly version of this page 86 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Alysa Nahmias, Benjamin Murray
Executive Producer: Elise Jaffe + Jeffrey Brown, Luis Ortiz
Director of Photography: Benjamin Murray
Editors: Kristen Nutile, Alex Minnick
Composer: Giancarlo Vulcano

"Truly exceptional...Confirms that the real power of architecture lies in its ability to both capture the spirit of a place, time and people." Robert McCarter, practicing architect, Professor of Architecture, Washington University
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 86-minutes and 58-minutes.

Cuba's ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists, Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi, in the wake of Castro's Revolution, is neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately rediscovered as a visionary architectural masterpiece.

In 1961, three young, visionary architects were commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to create Cuba's National Art Schools on the grounds of a former golf course in Havana, Cuba. Construction of their radical designs began immediately and the school's first classes soon followed. Dancers, musicians and artists from all over the country reveled in the beauty of the schools, but as the dream of the Revolution quickly became a reality, construction was abruptly halted and the architects and their designs were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. Forty years later the schools are in use, but remain unfinished and decaying. Castro has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream.

UNFINISHED SPACES features intimate footage of Fidel Castro, showing his devotion to creating a worldwide showcase for art, and it also documents the struggle and passion of three revolutionary artists.

Grade Level: Grades 9-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2012     Copyright Date: 2011
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-239-X

"A measured and provocative story...The film masterfully reflects the vicissitudes of Castro's support of cultural projects. The young filmmakers clearly demonstrate how the architectural history of an important project allows viewers to better comprehend the complicated history of a vibrant and controversial country."
Judith Bettelheim, Professor Emerita of Art History, San Francisco State University, Adjunct Lecturer and Curator, UCLA, Author, AFROCUBA Works on Paper, 1968-2003 andTranscultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia

"The pursuit of creative expression is a basic human instinct regardless of race, economic status or ethnicity. This film shows how the physical structures of the schools of Cubanacán have become a memorial to the talent of three individual architects, the beauty they accomplished and that which was never realized due to the constraints of repression. The film is historically informative of a period which is seldom documented and constitutes a riveting testimony of the endurance and tenacity of these Cuban artists who created their visions under the most dire conditions."
Isabel Alvarez Borland, Murray Professor of Arts and Humanities, College of the Holy Cross, Author, Cuban-American Literature of Exile: From Person to Persona

"Unfinished Spaces is an absorbing chronicle of a revolutionary architectural achievement, its neglect during changing political times, and the rebirth of interest in the buildings and their architects. It's also a personal history, exploring the unfinished spaces in the lives of the three visionary architects who had to rebuild their lives and careers after their projects fell into disfavor...Essential viewing for students of architecture, Latin American studies, history and politics, and anyone who appreciates a moving human interest story."
Nadine Covert, New York Delegate, Montreal International Festival of Films on Art, and formerly Executive Director, Educational Film Library Association

"Few buildings show the results of cultural and political policy as clearly as the National Art Schools of Cuba. Established idealistically in the 1960s, victims of ideology in succeeding decades, rehabilitated after the 1980s and abandoned again, these handsome buildings are explained by several of the original architects and later participants. This is a well-constructed and admirably photographed film that should appeal to the general public as well as to political scientists and lovers of architecture."
Carol Krinsky, Professor of Art History, Director of Undergraduate Studies, New York University

"Truly exceptional...Confirms that the real power of architecture lies in its ability to both capture the spirit of a place, time and people, and to bring this forward into presence in contemporary experience...The film also imparts a cautionary tale about the way political expediency often goes against both common sense and the human spirit, leading some architects to ignore both disciplinary principles as well as their own best instincts about what is the right thing to do. In the end, the story of the art schools is about the fragility of architecture and the fickleness of those who commission it, but, more importantly, it is also about the strength and lasting importance of architecture, and how even when it is abandoned by those who built it, it can continue to evoke the most noble ideals and provide the most enriching experiences for those who inhabit it."
Robert McCarter, practicing architect, Professor of Architecture, Washington University in St. Louis, Author, Understanding Architecture: A Primer on Architecture as Experience, Louis I. Kahn, and Frank Lloyd Wright: Critical Lives

"A poignant tale of tenacious dreams and obstacles, the film reminds us of the crucial interplay between politics and the built environment. Unfinished Spaces captures the pulse of collective optimism and subsequent anguish in the early days of the revolution. The movie provides nuanced original material that will be an important resource to both specialized and general audiences. It is not only relevant to the architecture public, but also to those interested in the arts, humanities, history, culture and urban studies. Showing the buildings as protagonists, the film eloquently reminds us of the importance of being able to dream, to think beyond given rules and conventions, and to reinvent them."
Irina Verona, Principal Architect, IVARCH, Editor, Praxis: A Journal of Writing and Building

"An engaging, intimate, and humane portrait that explores the lives of little-known designers and opens broad questions about the relationship between architecture and the history of ideas."
Dr. Paul Niell, Assistant Professor of Art History, Florida State University

"Unfinished Spaces is an evocative and beautifully filmed portrait of Cuba's National School of Arts, as a crucible for artistic creation that defied all kinds of dogma and elitism. But more than that, the film is a compelling account of an extraordinary period of Cuban cultural history as told by the architects, artists, and students who lived through it."
Sujatha Fernandes, Associate Professor of Sociology, Queens College-City University of New York, Author, Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures and Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chávez's Venezuela

"Beautifully filmed...Manages to capture and convey in an hour and a half fifty years of a contradictory and tormenting history...[but] leaves the audience hopeful that Utopia is still possible. Indeed, in spite of the political ups-and-downs, the film is an affirmation that the power of the arts is always stronger than politics. This film is a must for any class on documentary filmmaking, Latin American Studies, Cultural Studies, courses on Cuban culture, and, of course, on Architecture."
Dr. Lillian Manzor, Associate Professor, Modern Languages and Literatures, Director, Cuban Theater Digital Archive, University of Miami, Author, Marginality Beyond Return: Gender, Racial and Linguistic Politics in U.S.-Cuban Theater

"A wonderful addition to library DVD collections about art and art history. Highly recommended."
The Midwest Book Review

"Unfinished Spaces becomes the story of how architecture can well as the story of Cuba itself, a revolution whose spirit was eroded over time. It's a specific story that becomes a broader one as Murray and Nahmias go more deeply into the innovations of the doomed buildings."
Calgary Herald

"Unfinished Spaces becomes the story of how architecture can inspire...As well as the story of Cuba itself, a revolution whose spirit was eroded over time. It's a specific story that becomes a broader one as Murray and Nahmias go more deeply into the innovations of the doomed buildings. Eventually even Castro himself enters the picture to talk about what happened to an idea whose time is still waiting to come."
Jay Stone, Ottawa Citizen

"Lucidly filmed...A stirring study... Absorbing."
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

"A witty survey (and dismantling) of Cuban politics."
Earnest Hardy, The Village Voice

"Remarkable story."
Reed Johnson, The Los Angeles Times

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DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
2 versions: the original 86-minute version and a 58-minute version with scene selection.. Language options: SDH captions in English, Spanish subtitles.

Official Website
Discussion/Study Guide

Awards and Festivals
Film Independent Spirit Award
Best Reportage, Montreal Festival International du Film sur l'Art
Documentary Jury Prize, Salem Film Festival
Special Jury Prize, San Diego Latino Film Festival
Jury Prize, Semana Internacional de Cine
Jury Prize, Montreal FIFA Festival
Jury Prize, Valladolid International Film Festival
Los Angeles Film Festival
Camden International Film Festival
Hawaii International Film Festival
New York City Architecture and Design Film Festival
Minneapolis-St. Paul Latin Film Festival
Alexandria Film Festival
Denver Starz Film Festival
Tuscon Loft Film Festival
Houston Cinema Arts Festival
Boston Latino International Film Festival
Havana International Film Festival
Palm Springs International Film Festival
Portland International Film Festival
Glasgow International Film Festival
Dublin International Film Festival
Cinequest San Jose Film Festival
Miami International FIlm Festival
Cleveland International Film Festival
Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Filmfest DC
Chicago Architecture and Design Film Festival
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Amsterdam Bosch Art Film Festival
Crossroads Film Festival
Buenos Aires International Film Festival
Izmir International Film Festival
Montclair Film Festival
Docaviv Film Festival
Millennium Festival
Seoul Int'l Architecture Film Fest
Urbaneye Film Festival

Central America/The Caribbean
Developing World
Human Rights
International Studies
Latino and Chicano Studies
Political Science
Russian/Slavic Studies

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... more Reviews

"A fascinating tale of visionary aesthetics and...sublime structures."
Steve Dollar, The Wall Street Journal

"Elegantly traces the brief heyday and dark period of Cuba's Art Schools."
Robert Koehler, Variety

"One of the most engrossing architecture documentaries."
Diana Budds, Dwell

"The most visually breathtaking documentary in recent memory."
Jackson Truax, Tonight at the Movies

"Go see this film and get inspired."
Carine Fabius, Huffington Post

"Critic's Pick: Go!"
Karina Longworth, LA Weekly

"Lovingly and viscerally documents modernist treasures."
Sam Lubell, The Architect's Newspaper

"Revolution, art, a potent mix for all to enjoy."
Film Threat

"A must-see...At once captivating, heartbreaking, and inspiring."
Dena Burroughs, Examiner

"Subtle...Sweeping vision."
Oscar Moralde, Slant Magazine

"A fascinating portrait of Cuba rarely seen."
Lori Huck, Yahoo Movies

"Deftly turns the tale of a work of architecture into an allegory."
Thomas White, Documentary Magazine

"A beautiful gem...about the creative spirit thriving in the darkest of times."
Courtney Howard, Very Aware

"An entirely fresh and unexpected perspective on history."
Moveable Fest

"This film is getting rave reviews."

"Succinctly captures the dichotomy of the idea of a Cuban revolution under Fidel Castro and the reality of the Castro dictatorship."
Olivia Flores Alvarez, The Houston Press

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