Review by Sean Boelman
Herbert Sauper’s film Epicentro is without a doubt one of the most wonderfully abstract documentaries that audiences will get the pleasure to see this year. Exploring how cinema can be used as a tool in various circumstances, this offers what is probably the scariest outlook there could be on the future of the medium.
The documentary takes a look at Cuba with a specific focus on how cinema and film are used as a means of creating a particular image of the nation within and outside of its country. With how secretive Cuba was towards journalists and filmmakers for such a long time, it’s interesting to see something come out that is so upfront about some of the country’s practices.
Of course, Sauper isn’t critical only of Cuba, but any government who uses the media as a way of blinding its people, which is happening more and more as of late, even in countries with a supposedly free press. While propaganda has been around since before the beginning of cinema, the fact that it still exists in such a potentially harmful manner is disheartening.
Yet on the opposite side of the coin, film can be used as a method of providing information, and some of the more interesting moments of the documentary explore the failures of bringing that available information to the people. Arguably the issue is not the availability of said information, but rather, the access to it.
That said, perhaps the most intriguing idea that Sauper brings to the table is the relative nature of utopia. This documentary questions what actually makes something a “utopia”. Sauper purports that a utopia is not defined in a universal sense, but rather, in the eyes of who is defining it. It’s an interesting take on Cuban-American relations that hasn’t really been done before.
The documentary is definitely very poetic in nature, Sauper taking a very unorthodox narrative approach. While there are clear narrative threads, Sauper arranges these threads in an interesting way. It’s clear that there are a lot of ideas floating around in his head, and while this structure may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s fascinating to dissect.
If Sauper does make one significant mistake, it is that he doesn’t let the audience get particularly close to his subjects. The documentary would have done well to really dive into the lives of these people who have effectively been brainwashed in a truly terrifying manner, as this could have made the material hit harder.
Epicentro is an amazing documentary in many ways. Although it could have used more of an emotional connection to its subjects, it’s still a thought-provoking and impactful story about the potential and dangers of art.
Epicentro is now streaming online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.