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Cuban film school seeks return to free tuition

A prestigious film school founded by Fidel Castro and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seeking a return to its roots by offering free tuition to its global students

AFP, Thursday 1 Dec 2011

The new head of Cuba's International School of Film and Television, Rafael Rosal, is hoping to take advantage of its 25th anniversary to set up an international fund to help students eschew the fees.

"In the mid-1990s, when Cuba experienced its 'special period' of economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet empire, we had to start making students pay, and that changed our profile," said Rosal, a Guatemalan, who graduated from the school when the Cuban government still paid the tuition fees.

EICTV's more than 120 students pay about $6,500 each year, while tuition remains free at Cuba's other big international schools, like the Latin American School of Medicine and the International School of Physical Education and Sports.

"One of the things that makes this school unique is that all our professors are professionals, very active cinematographers who spend two or three weeks at the school each year," Rosal said. "We probably have the biggest teaching staff of all film schools -- up to 400 per year -- which makes it a very special place to learn for students."

Under the palm trees of San Antonio de los Banos, in the Cuban countryside southwest of Havana, Mauricio Quiros said he was studying to fulfill his dream of becoming a screenwriter.

The 29-year-old Costa Rican gave up surfing and music to focus on the seventh art. On the walls behind him, the most famous professors who have taught here have scrawled their signatures from Francis Ford Coppola to Steven Spielberg.

"I specialize in sound recording," said Stefan Voglsinger, a 25-year-old from Austria who is making a video with a German student.

Chilean journalist Lisette Sobarzo said she came to the school to learn how to organize film festivals.

Despite a big demand for places at EICTV, only a limited amount of spots are available. Each year, the school welcomes just 42 new students in one of its six specialities: fiction and documentary filmmaking, screenwriting, production, photography, sound and editing. In 2012, it will allow 48 new students to enroll after adding a new media studies program.

The school, located just 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Havana, also grows vegetables on its 40 hectares (100 acres) to feed students, teachers and 300 staff.

"Fidel Castro and Garcia Marquez founded the school in the countryside, thinking it would be better for students to be outside Havana, a very interesting city that could take all the focus away from their studies," said Rosal. Despite its efforts to become self-sufficient, the school needs money.

"We have a budget of $3.5 to 4 million, which is not much for what we achieve," said Rosal, who hopes to get $50 million from donors. "This school was founded for people with talent, not for those with talent and money. There are thousands of young people who only have their talent to go on."

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