By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
In this snapshot WhatsApp interview, Negash Abdurahman, producer of the the film ‘Cuba in Africa’ which won several prestigious international awards, narrates his experiences.
Abdurahman is an Ethiopian-American filmmaker and an educational technology specialist. He is also the Founder of RI Systems Inc. His award-winning film Cuba in Africa was years in the making, overcoming many challenges. Cuba In Africa tells the story of Cuban volunteers who gave everything to win the independence of Angola, Namibia and contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa.
Here are the interview excerpts:
What important messages are contained in your award winning documentary film called “Cuba in Africa” which you produced in the United States?
The film titled ‘Cuba in Africa’ is a short documentary that explores the role Cuba played in the independence of Angola and Namibia, the release of Nelson Mandela and the fall of apartheid in South Africa.
Cuba was the only country in history that came to Africa’s aid without expecting anything in return.
The magnitude of Cuba’s sacrifice is astounding. An Island nation of roughly 8 million people at the time, sent over 400,000 people — military as well as civilians — to help Africans in their fight for freedom. This was unprecedented.
Producing documentary films, perhaps, involve some challenges and difficulties. Did you experience any in the process?
Generally, producing documentary films involve many challenges and difficulties. We, as a team, had to overcome many challenges.
The Cubans were reluctant to tell their story. It took me several years to get permission to enter Cuba to conduct interviews with a cross-section of Cuban veterans of the Angola war.
Finding money was difficult. Telling a story that says something positive about Cuba, even if true, goes against the popular narrative in the United States. Therefore, the project was rejected by almost all major funding institutions that typically provide money for historical documentaries.
The embargo on Cuba created many logistical difficulties as we had to make sure that we did everything according to US law. It was difficult and took time, but we were able to overcome the challenges.
By the way, explain the main driving reasons why this film has become part of your evolving life-time career?
I am an accidental story teller. Cuba in Africa is my first film and I stumbled on the story after visiting post-apartheid South Africa. I had heard about Cuba’s involvement in Africa before, but I had not uderstood the magnitude. A friend asked me if anyone has done a documentary on this story. I looked and it appeared no one has done a documentary on this important subject. That’s where my determination came from.
I have an eclectic background. Although I had a graduate degree in international relations, I switched fields and ended up in technology and innovation during most of my career. Specifically, I worked in the field of educational technology, looking for creative ways on how technology can contribute to innovation in teaching and learning.
Is this film that took you to festivals in the Middle East and Africa?
Cuba in Africa has won over 20 Best Short Documentary Awards from all over the world, including at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF), held on Los Angeles in May of 2022.
Most recently, we were invited to the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), one of the largest festivals on the African continent, held in Lagos, Nigeria in October 2022. In the same month, we were also invited to the Meta Film Festival in Dubai.
In what ways would you argue that the film’s popularity provides the necessary platform for a change in Africa? Interesting to ask about the kind of feedback you have received so far?
Cuba in Africa has received a warm, emotional response all over the world. Most people never heard of this story. They were touched by the altruism of Cubans who sacrificed their sons and daughters on behalf of Africa.
After all that, what are the future perspectives? Do you hope to follow-up the theme in the coming years?
Our immediate plan is to find distributors who can make sure the world gets to see this important story. The long-term plan is to see if we can turn this short documentary into a feature film.
You can watch a two-minutes trailer for Cuba in Africa at http://www.cubainafrica.com