Sunday, May 9, 2010

Aurora grad helps produce Cuba documentary

By Pete Letheby
Published: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 1:07 PM CDT
AURORA -- Brent Meier admits to some "wanderlust," as he puts it.

"In my lifelong transition from vacationing to traveling, I've realized the opportunity and potential of visiting a place," he said. "Sooner or later, you're home again, and the stories become the most important part of the trip."

The 26-year-old Meier, an Aurora native and 2002 Aurora High School graduate, has some intriguing stories about Cuba, where he spent more than three weeks in July 2008 filming a documentary for friend John Walters of Ann Arbor, Mich., an artist and "Renaissance maintenance man." The two put together a fascinating 23-minute film titled "La Solidaridad" ("solidarity" in English). The documentary focuses on Cubans' resourcefulness in creating transportation in a country that, for the most part, is closed off from the rest of the world.

Brent Meier poses with his mother, Constanza (Connie), at their home in Aurora. Brent recently finished editing a documentary on Cuban mobility. Connie Meier, a native of Colombia, was Nebraska's first certified bilingual court interpreter and translator. (Zach Mayhew /for The Independent)
Walters had already planned on documenting travel and mobility in Cuba. When he met Meier a couple of months before the trip, he found his video guy.

Walters introduces the documentary with his interest and intent:

"Cubans are known within America for having this intuitive ability to make something out of nothing," he says. "I don't know if it's a mentality down there, but everyone has to make do with what they have, and everyone helps everyone else."

Most of this ingenuity has evolved from (1) a 50-year economic embargo of Cuba by the United States and other Western countries, and (2) the termination of aid from the Soviet Union after that country's communist system collapsed in 1991. As a result, old -- sometimes very old -- American and Soviet-made cars are common on Cuban thoroughfares.

While in Cuba, on one occasion Walters and Meier rode in a 1980, Soviet-made Lada. The car had 270,000 miles and was on its second engine. The two saw many autos made long before 1980 still motoring down streets and expressways.

Even more incredible were some of the contraptions that Cubans had devised for transportation. The documentary details the creativity of Arsenio Fuentes, a 48-year-old man confined to a wheelchair since he was in a car accident at age 2. Fuentes and friends built what looks like an expanded golf cart entirely from discarded items, including seats from a school and glass from a bus no longer in use.

The gadget, however, was plenty good enough to get Fuentes around town.

"Cubans fix stuff," Fuentes said in the documentary. "Here we look for used things. We fix things and we continue on."

"Cubans can make something out of nothing," Meier said. "It is an attitude born out of economic necessity."

An early, short version of the documentary has shown at festivals in Lincoln and Mishawaka, Ind., as well as at an exhibit of Cuban art in Eugene, Ore. Meier -- who is the technology and education coordinator at El Centro de las Americas, a Lincoln agency dedicated to improving the lives of Latino families -- estimates he spent around 100 hours editing 15 hours of film down to the 23 minutes.

And the editing isn't over yet. Meier and Walters are fine-tuning the final piece and hope to find venues in Nebraska and elsewhere to show it.

"Brent is a great guy to work with," Walters said, "and not a bad editor, too."

Both young men had already experienced cultures in several Latin American countries before the Cuba trip, and both are fluent in Spanish. Meier's mother, Constanza, is a native of Colombia and was Nebraska's first certified bilingual court interpreter and translator.

Walters and Meier have talents in multiple areas. Meier is a 2006 University of Nebraska-Lincoln grad majoring in studio art, and one of his college projects was making a "penny mosaic" -- a portrait of himself using 7,200 pennies of different shades. It now adorns the living room of Greg and Constanza Meier's home in Aurora.

For Walters, 29 years old, a wide array of interests and talents come together in sculpture, metal fabrication, architecture and ceramics. He has made nearly 50 pieces of art, some rather large and all of them innovative. Many are on display in Lincoln.

It is likely that "La Solidaridad" won't be the duo's last documentary. Meier hopes to do a future film on immigrants in Nebraska's public school system.

And a collaborative excursion is on the burner -- "Pan Americana," which will examine Latin America's common use of light-duty pickup trucks as a mode of transporting people and goods. Walters said they hope to travel the Pan American Highway and record the journey using, among other means, stop-motion photography, a painstaking and unique art form that creates "video" using thousands of still photos.

To view John Daniel Walters' works of art, go to his Web site at

US eases Cuba, Iran, Sudan sanctions to allow freer web

Picture of protests on 18 June 2009 posted on Twitter by a 
protester named as shadish173
Opposition groups in Iran used social networking sites to organise protests
The US treasury department has eased sanctions on Iran, Cuba and Sudan to help further the use of web services and support opposition groups.

US technology firms will now be allowed to export online services such as instant messaging and social networks.
Companies had not offered such services for fear of violating sanctions.
Opposition supporters in Iran used social networking sites and services to organise protests after the country's disputed presidential poll last year.
The US Treasury said exports would be allowed of services related to web browsing, blogging, e-mail, instant messaging, chat, social networking and photo- and movie-sharing.
Low impact?
The move was intended to "ensure that individuals in these countries can exercise their universal right to free speech and information to the greatest extent possible", it said.
Kim Ghattas
Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington

Internet freedom is fast becoming a principle of US foreign policy. In February, Hillary Clinton said that countries restricting this freedom were violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Treasury Department said the move would make it easier for people in Iran, Sudan and Cuba to use the internet and exercise their most basic rights.

The technology will likely be bought by small technology businesses - if they are able to access it - and some of it could help circumvent government restrictions on the use of programmes like Twitter and even internet-based e-mail accounts.

Iran clamped down on the use of Gmail ahead of planned protests in Iran last month. But while it tries to open up the flow of information for citizens in countries it deems repressive, the US is also pushing to tighten sanctions on Iran's government because of its controversial nuclear programme.

"As recent events in Iran have shown, personal internet-based communications like e-mail, instant messaging and social networking are powerful tools," Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin said.
The department has allowed the export of services to all three countries, and the export of communications software only to Iran and Sudan, as the export of software to Cuba is governed by the commerce department.
Last year, software giant Microsoft barred users in five countries, including Iran, Cuba and Sudan, from using instant messaging services. People trying to use the service received an error message.
It is not clear whether the governments affected will be able impose their own restrictions on these services.
In Cuba, the numbers of internet users is still very low, so lifting sanctions may not have a major impact, observers say.
Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would be supporting the development of new tools to enable citizens to circumvent politically-motivated censorship.
Any country which restricted free access to information risked "walling themselves off from the progress of the next century", she added.