The film is a 30 minute documentary paying tribute to the thousands of young Cuban women that participated in the 1961 literacy campaign. Approximately 50 thousand teenage girls launched a practically impossible task and helped construct a new society at the ages of 16 and 17, said Catherine Murphy who spend almost 10 years researching in archives, searching for teachers of the time and taping an oral history of their experiences.
The La Femme International Film Festival is the largest women’s event in the US with the participation of renowned movie stars. The festival kicked off on Thursday and will run until Saturday with the presentation of over 100 independent, short and documentary, commercial films and musical videos.
Actresses like Susan Sarandon and Daryl Hannah will reportedly be on hand.
250,000 volunteer teachers join the national literacy campaign. Almost half of them were under 18 and over half of them were women.
Together they taught a nation to read and write– and their lives would never be the same.
MAESTRA is a 33-minute documentary that explores the experience of nine women who, as young girls, taught on the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961. Through current day inter-views from in their homes in Havana, archival film footage and still photos, we look at this moment and how it changed their lives as women.
The film's characters are Daysi Veitia, Gina Rey, Norma Guillard, Eloisa Hernandez, Adria & Ivonne Santana, Blanca Monett, Diana Balboaand Griselda Aguilera. The audience also meets Tina Gomez and her two sons, who live in the Sierra Maestra mountain range of Cuba, and housed a literacy volunteer in their home.
The film begins with archival footage from the UN General Assembly in September 1960,when Cuba announced that they would eradicate illiteracy in one year. They made an open call for volunteer teachers, with a massive media campaign that went all over the country.
Over 250,000 Cuban citizens volunteered -100,000 of the volunteers were under 18 and over half of were women. Interviews, recorded testimonials, and powerful archival footage that took years to compile, tell this story that personifies the hopes and dreams of a nation and the will and courage of the young women who made this monumental endeavor possible.
Cuba of the 1950s was dominated by a staunchly patriarchal family structure. Most of the young women’s families refused to let them go to the mountainous regions in a time of such uncertainty. So they entered into an intense process of negotiation with their families, fighting for a degree of autonomy and independence that had rarely been allowed for Cuban women before then.
It was a teenage girl uprising.
They went for two-week teacher training at Varadero, a beach town on the northern coast of Cuba, and then off to mountains and valleys across the island to their teaching assignments. They lived with the families who they would teach, working alongside them in the fields during the daytime & teaching classes (often by kerosene lantern) on nights and weekends.
The young teachers faced many challenges & difficulties. There were women whose husbands forbade them to study, elderly farmers who could not hold a pencil, and the daily challenges of rural life.
There were also very real dangers.
In the midst of the Literacy Campaign, the Bay of Pigs was invaded. Although the invasion did not succeed, armed confrontations continued across Cuba. In the Escambray Mountains, six months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, one young literacy teacher was killed along with the campesino Pedro Lantigua, that he was teaching to read and write. In spite of the growing dangers, the majority of young teachers refused to leave, and stayed on in the communities where they were teaching, finishing out the year-long campaign.
Their eyes sparkle as they share beautiful, moving – and sometimes funny -stories of teaching their students to write the alphabet, to sign their names, or to spell the name of their country, Cuba. The story ends with the protagonists talking about how this experience changed their lives and their sense of themselves.
They speak profoundly about how it changed the way they saw themselves as women, their notions about what they could strive for in life. And all of them insist this was the most important thing they have ever done.
For more information on the documentary “Maestra” on one of Cuba’s most important achievements, visit www.maestrathefilm.org