Wayne James’ “Going…Going…Gone: The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba” Set for World Premiere in Union City, New Jersey and Miami, Florida

Cuba Film Directed by Fashion Designer Wayne James to Premiere in Union City, NJ, on March 27, 2022

Wayne James, the St. Croix-born fashion designer, critically acclaimed author of Manly Manners, and former senator, will unveil Going…Going…Gone:  The Grandeur of Golden-Age Cuba at the William V. Musto Cultural Center (Musto) in Union City, New Jersey, on Sunday, March 27, 2022. Directed by James and produced by Kiwaun Cumberbatch, the film, already being touted a prototype of the emerging “quiltography” genre, is a masterful “piecing together” of photos, music, and archival film footage for the purpose of revealing a new truth or telling an untold story—the way a quiltmaker uses scraps of old fabric to create a new work of textile art.  

“To experience Going…Going…Gone is to attend a photo exhibition at the National Art Gallery, with a live concert in the Rotunda by Washington, DC’s Pan-American Symphony Orchestra (PASO), while receiving a guided tour by an archivist from the Newseum,” James said.  “The film is at once a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the mind.”   

The cornerstone of the three-part docufilm is James’ exceedingly rare collection of approximately 500 self-captioned photos of golden-age Cuba dating from 1890-1925.  Issued in 1925 by the Henry Clay and Bock & Co., Ltd., cigar company of Havana as photo-album collectibles for its preferred customers, James’ collection is believed to be the world’s largest, very few of the “Cuba Series” cards having survived the ravages of time. The University of Miami, for example, one of the world’s foremost repositories of Cuban archival material, only has 60 of the images.

James’ collection was begun by his maternal great-uncle, Alexander Messer, who migrated to Cuba from his homeland of St. Croix (former Danish West Indies) in 1918 at the age of 29.  Messer, a musician and sugarcane laborer, would occasionally enclose the photo-album cards in his letters home to his parents and siblings.  Alexander’s younger brother Alphonso, born in 1896, safeguarded the photos for more than a half century.  In 1973, at the age of 11, Wayne James inherited the nascent collection of approximately 100 photos, augmenting it over the decades.  In October of 2009, while visiting Cuba in his capacity of Senator of the United States Virgin Islands, James donated a copy of his collection—at the time encompassing some 250 images—to the University of Havana, which at the time had no archival knowledge of the photos.  

“The century-old photos take the audience on a panoramic journey of Cuba’s beautiful bays and harbors, its formidable colonial fortresses, the island’s seemingly countless palatial residences and civic buildings, its breathtakingly beautiful churches and cathedrals, as well as its great plantations, palm-flanked roads, picturesque parks and monuments, and impressive bridges and factories.

“The photographic record is a testament to 19th-century Cuba’s position as one of the grandest destinations in the New World,” James said.  “Havana’s broad boulevards rival their European counterparts.”

The visual excursion to bygone Cuba is seamlessly stitched together by the moving music of the island-nation’s esteemed 19th-century symphonic composers—Ignacio Cervantes, Jose White, Nicolas Espadero, Manuel Samuell, and Claudio Brindis de Salas—with masterfully interwoven film footage of live, Covid-era concerts by PASO performing some of the tango classics of Argentinian great Astor Piazzolla. And, of course, the film is audibly punctuated with Afro-Cuban conga rhythms and Santeria spirituals. 

To put the photos and music into a socio-historical context, Director James uses archival footage of Cuba’s great events and achievements of the 20th century:  Pre-Castro Cuba travel films; footage of the 1959 Castro-led Revolution; television broadcasts of the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980; gripping videos of the Elian Gonzalez saga; foreign correspondents’ reports of Cuba’s medical, athletic, and dance diplomacy; and the 2021 “Cubans Demanding Democracy” demonstrations, for example. 

“In this age of technology, with platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, there is no need to ‘reinvent the reel’,” James said. “When treating historical subjects, the best information is that which is recorded as the events are unfolding, in real time.  And today, because of social media platforms, much of that archival material is readily accessible.  Why reconstruct in a Hollywood studio, for example, a dramatic struggle for freedom when there is authentic footage of that very struggle, oftentimes recorded by objective bystanders with their mobile devices and uploaded onto social media platforms? Today, the art is the reality. The mission of modern-day historical filmmaking is to skillfully quilt together what is already out there, oftentimes in the public domain,” James said.

Director Wayne James in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Alessandro Sonetti.

Going…Going…Gone, after its March world premieres in Union City and Miami, will be made available to the public free of charge.

“The story of this film is a metaphor for the pursuit of freedom the world over,” James said.  “I was inspired to share my collection of photographs in the form of a film by my dear, dear Cuban friend, Luis C. Garcia-Menocal, great-grandson of Cuba’s third president, Mario Garcia-Menocal.  Luis’ nostalgia for Cuba is palpable, and I knew that my photos would provide solace not only to him, but also to Cubans the world over. This film has the power to ignite change. And the people who need this fillip must be able to receive it free of charge.”

Plans are underway to publish a coffee table book of the photos used in the film.  “It is a rare collection of photographs that should be shared with Cubans of the diaspora and the people of the world,” James concluded.

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