Unfinished Spaces Alysa Nahmias & Benjamin Murray

Unfinished Spaces Alysa Nahmias & Benjamin Murray
In 1961, only two years after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara played a round of golf at a swanky Havana country club. While chatting, they decided that the land would be better served as an arts school campus, later known as Instituto Superior de Arte.

Castro said he wanted this complex "to be the most beautiful art school in the world," and immediately put the wheels in motion to bring this sudden dream to fruition. There would be five schools: each one devoted to theatre, ballet, modern dance, visual art and music. However, over the course of the next 60 years, a series of political misunderstandings, funding issues, the fall of the Soviet Empire and even hurricanes played a role in the unfortunate aftermath of such an ambitious cultural project.

Unfinished Spaces provides an intimate look at the unique story behind this fabled project, utilizing original photos and video footage, as well as interviews with the original architects. Directors Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray succinctly contrast the triumphs and challenges, from the official support from the government versus condemnation, the fast-paced construction versus an all-out stoppage, and even from how the space was revered by students and heavily used to its later abandonment. Murray's vivid use of colours emphasizes the nuances of the Cuban landscape and the archival footage is fluidly blended with the new footage to create a seamless story.

Nahmias and Murray communicate a tremendous amount of information, documenting the saga of the structures and the social conditions that were instrumental in their very creation, perception and subsequent decay. Architects Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti are characters unto themselves, lighting up the screen with their personal accounts of the past, sharing their opinions of their love of architecture and their disgust with the Soviet, pre-fabricated, mass building influence on Cuba that went against everything they stood for (which to this day is what we still see in their country).

Their disappointment with how things transpired is obvious, but it is their sense of hope that their creations will one day be completed that leaves viewers with a feeling of optimism and inspiration.

But while Unfinished Spaces is a fitting metaphor for the history of the Cuban Revolution and unfulfilled dreams, both artistic and political, the sheer density of the documentary is a bit overwhelming, presenting an abundance of information and perspectives without an engaging framing device to make it digestible. (Kinosmith)