Raúl Pérez Ureta: 2010 National Film Prize Winner
Raúl Pérez Ureta, one of the contemporary Cuban cinema’s main photography directors, has been awarded the National Film Prize, a distinction that has recognized the lifetime work of such figures as Alfredo Guevara, Julio García Espinosa, Humberto Solás, Daisy Granados, Fernando Pérez, Nelson Rodríguez, and Leo Brouwer, among others.
Influenced by images inherited from great international photographers such as Greg Toland, Gianni di Venanzo, Jordan Cronenweth, and Serguei Urusevski, Raúl Pérez Ureta has a peculiar way of illuminating, framing, composing, and moving the camera. Each distinguished reference has nurtured his faculty to position light, his great subtlety to design the visual atmosphere of a film.
Pérez Ureta is the head of the Photography Department at the San Antonio de los Baños International Film and TV School, where he actively teaches young generations the secrets of his art. The collaborator of authors like Fernando Pérez (Madagascar, La vida es silbar, Suite Habana) and Daniel Díaz Torres (Otra mujer, Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas, Quiéreme y verás, Kleines Tropikana, Hacerse el sueco), among others, has been granted the prize in the framework of celebrations for the 51st foundation anniversary of the Cuban Film Industry (ICAIC), in recognition of his relevant achievements within the Latin American film world and his lifetime work.
Before committing to visualizing some of the best Cuban films in the last twenty years, Pérez Ureta worked early in the 1960s as camera assistant in cartoons, at ICAIC. He later offered to work for Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano (the ICAIC Latin American News) as camera assistant and sound mixer. Once there, after uncountable editions, Raúl really learned how to make cinema, its technique, and realized the possibility of making art, always encouraged by the creativity and talent of Santiago Álvarez and his contemporaries Daniel Díaz Torres, Rolando Díaz, and Fernando Pérez. In 1965, Raúl Pérez Ureta was already the cameraman of one of the news broadcast once a week, which became paradigm of creative journalism.
Since his debut feature film, he has shown his intuitive capacity to design a film’s look according to the author’s intentions, the character’s nature, and tone of the story. He has always defended the principle that good photography conveys the desired dramatic effect with as less light as possible. His endeavor to create significant, dense, multi-value images goes beyond the bounds of cinema, even reaching the TV (La semilla escondida), the documentary (Los dueños del río, Minero, Suite Habana) and the video clip (Monedas al aire, Cita con ángeles).
He has worked outside Cuba or with foreign filmmakers more than any other renowned Cuban photographer. His debut feature film was Visa USA (1986), which contributed to consolidate the prestige of Colombian Lisandro Duque; he helped creating the Gacía Márquez-like and Caribbean atmosphere of Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes (1989) by Argentine Fernando Birri; and accompanied Cuban Orlando Rojas in his adventure with the Spanish TV (Fortuna lo que ha querido, 1991). French Paul Vecchiali had his services in La impura (1990), and Ruy Guerra (Brazil-Mozambique) in the TV series Me alquilo para soñar (1991), starring German Hanna Schygulla.
But the previously mentioned titles were just arguments that reaffirmed the talent of a photographer who imposed his style with his fifth and sixth films Papeles secundarios (1990, Orlando Rojas) and Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas (1990, Daniel Díaz Torres). The dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of frustration and skepticism evidenced through faint, inclined lights in numerous scenes of those films soon made Pérez Ureta one of the greatest photographers in the Cuban film world.
Raúl’s talent has not been exclusive to acclaimed authors. He has offered his creativity and exuberance to young artists making their debut like Fernando Timossi (Blue Moon) and Arturo Sotto (Pon tu pensamiento en mí, Amor vertical). In the meantime, he was recreating the Tropicana of music and fantasy in Un paraíso para las estrellas, or conceiving shot by shot such dissimilar worlds as the Centro Habana’s tenement building of Hacerse el sueco (2003, Daniel Díaz Torres) or diatopic futurism in Madrigal (2007, Fernando Pérez).
As far as it is known, his latest works are Boletos al paraíso, by Gerardo Chijona, and Martí, el ojo del canario which, according to those who have seen it, revolutionizes the concept of historic film in Cuba, based of the free, respectful reconstruction of José Martí’s childhood and adolescence. Though Pérez Ureta has recognized over and over that a photography director may well lack style and commit to requirements of the author and the story, it is clear that he has created a contrasting, paradoxical aesthetic beautifying unhappiness and casting a shadow over joy.
Entry filed under: ARGENTINIAN CINEMA, AWARDS, COLOMBIAN CINEMA, CUBAN CINEMA, DIRECTORS, INDUSTRY NEWS, LATIN AMERICAN FILM, SPANISH CINEMA. Tags: CUBAN CINEMA, ICAIC, National Film Prize, Raúl Pérez Ureta, San Antonio de los Baños International Film and TV School.