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Former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray will be speaking to the Windham World Affairs Council on Nov. 6.

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Cuba comes to Brattleboro

Windham World Affairs Council, Brattleboro Film Festival team up for a weekend of cultural exchange

For more information on the film festival, visit brattleborofilmfestival.org.

BRATTLEBORO—Although Havana is approximately 1,477 miles from Brattleboro, the organizers of the Brattleboro Film Festival and the Windham World Affairs Council aim to bring Cuba a lot closer during the weekend of Nov. 6.

In a series of events that would have hardly been possible before 2014, when presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro reopened diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, locals can experience Cuban academia, film, music, and food without having to travel to Miami or sneak into Cuba through other countries.

To kick off the Cuba-centric weekend, on Friday, Nov. 6, the Windham World Affairs Council presents “Cuba and the United States: The Opportunities and Challenges of Normalization.”

This talk, by Dr. Carlos Alzugaray, will analyze the opportunities and challenges of re-establishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. after 50 years of estrangement.

This normalization process is likely to be complicated by the sometimes vast differences in values and social and economic models of the two nations.

As the press release notes, “there were never any illusions that the path to normalization would be easy.”

Lissa Weinmann, Windham World Affairs Council board member — and moderator of Friday’s talk — characterizes Alzugaray as having “a resume as long as your arm.”

Alzugaray served with the Cuban Foreign Ministry from 1961 to 1996; his last two posts there were advisor to the minister of global political affairs, and head of the Cuban mission to the European Union.

During his tenure, Alzugaray represented Cuba in Japan, Bulgaria, Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia, South Africa, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

After ending his career in diplomacy, Alzugaray became a professor at the University of Havana and received a doctorate degree in historical sciences.

In addition, he has written extensively on current international affairs, and has lectured at universities in Central, North, and South America, and in Europe.

The free talk takes place at the venue 118 Elliot, at 118 Elliot St., and begins at 7 p.m., with a half-hour of coffee, tea, and conversation. Alzugaray’s talk begins at 7:30 p.m., and is followed by a question-and-answer period.

As part of the Brattleboro Film Festival, the 2014 Cuban film, Conducta, directed by Ernesto Daranas Serrano, is playing at the Latchis Theatre at 48 Main St. on Saturday, Nov. 7.

The film, which the festival organizers describe as “a gritty, enlightening drama about a ‘problem’ student and a teacher who’s seen it all in an honest depiction of Cuba today,” begins at 6:30 p.m.

Immediately following the film, Idalmis García, who plays Mercedes in the film, will lead a discussion about Conducta in the theater’s lobby.

Afterward, at 118 Elliot, festival organizers invite the public to “celebrate the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations” with a night of Cuban music, dancing, and Cuban-style drinks and snacks.

“Night in Havana,” a fundraiser for the festival, features music by the sextet De Lomas y Sones, led by Cuban percussionist William Armando Rodriguez (see sidebar).

The event promises “dancers and special guests” and begins at 8:30 p.m.

The next day, 118 Elliot hosts the final Cuba-related event: a discussion “Documentary Film in Cuba Today,” with Lázaro Gonzáles, Cuban documentary filmmaker, and Alexandra Halkin, director of Americas Media Initiative.

The discussion will include a showing of clips from contemporary Cuban documentaries, including Gonzáles’s 2014 film Máscaras (Masks). The film follows two actors, Ríubel Alarcón and Pedro Manuel González, also known as Margot Parapar and Roxana Rojo, two of Cuba’s most popular drag performers.

Gonzáles approaches drag — known as transformismo in Cuba — through an anthropological lens. As he films the actors transforming themselves into their stage personae, he also tells the story of their personal development, and the evolution of LGBT rights in Cuban culture.

“In an era in which gay Cubans faced active persecution — Ríubel sometimes had to leap over fences to get away from the police — drag became acceptable by sharing positive social messages from the stage: telling people to keep safe when it came to STDs, to avoid drug use, and take care of each other,” the Americas Media Initiative writes in the film’s description on its website, americasmediainitiative.org.

As Gonzáles told teleSUR (La Nueva Televisora del Sur, a pan-Latin American television network headquartered in Venezuela), the main reason he made his film was “to try to give place and voice to people at the outskirts of great media speeches and Cuban cultural spaces.”

The “Documentary Film in Cuba Today” event is by donation, and begins at noon.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #330 (Wednesday, November 4, 2015). This story appeared on page B1.

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