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From Hollywood to Havana: Artists give movie posters a Cuban twist

By Nuala Calvi, for CNN
  • Film posters in Cuba are handmade as silkscreen prints
  • American and European movies are given a Cuban spin
  • Posters rely on creativity of artists rather than photographic images

London, England (CNN) -- There are no pictures of A-list actors or screaming quotes from five-star reviews -- but the simple, bold designs of Cuban movie posters instantly catch the eye.

Printed as silkscreens in a diminutive 20x30 inch format, using just three or four colors, the handmade posters rely on the artists' ability to capture the essence of each film in the most striking and intriguing way possible.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills is holding an exhibition of 125 of the handmade posters dating from 1959 to the present day, on loan from the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematograficos in Cuba, until August 28.

With a custom-designed poster commissioned by the institute for every movie screened in Cuba, well-known American and European films have become creative fodder for those who make a living as respected purveyors of their art form.

What's unique and different about these posters is that they are designed by the artist and then individually silkscreened.
--Ellen Harrington, director of exhibitions, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The chilling atmosphere of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is perfectly evoked with the image of a small red tricycle underneath aggressive white streaks of light on a black background, while his film "A Clockwork Orange" is summarized by a brain in a bowler hat hovering over an orange squeezer.

"What's unique and different about these posters is that they are designed by the artist and then individually silkscreened, so it's paint on paper -- as opposed to being mass-printed and based on a photographic image like in the West," said Ellen Harrington, director of exhibitions at the Academy.

"Along with political posters, film posters are the main outlets for graphic artists in Cuba because there isn't an advertising industry in the way that there is elsewhere -- and they are really passionate about the art form."

Among the collection are posters for Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin films, as well as "Schindler's List" -- which took 16 years to get to Cuba because of trade restrictions, according to Harrington.

Cuban films are also represented, including "Fresa Y Chocolate" -- the only movie from the country so far to have garnered an Academy Award nomination. Its poster features a strawberry ice cream melting and oozing into a chocolate one, representing the young gay man in the story who falls in love with his heterosexual friend.

Setting up the institute, which oversees film funding and distribution as well as the creation and dissemination of the movie posters, was one of the first acts of the Castro regime, recognizing the importance of film in Cuban culture.

"Film is partly an antidote to the realities of life in Cuba," said Harrington. "But I think setting up the ICAIC was also about putting culture in a prominent position and recognizing how proud Cubans are of their cultural literacy and appreciation of the arts. Movies are viewed there as an artistic, not a commercial experience, and the posters reflect that."