Zone of Silence brings together the voices of five Cuban creators - poet Pedro Juan Guttierez, film director Fernando Perez, musician Frank Delgado, film critic and professor Gustavo Arco, and poet and playwright Anton Arrufat - in a wide-ranging and frank discussion on censorship.
From the early days of the Cuban revolution through the 1970s, censorship was overt and direct. Artists were given "parameters" with which they had to conform. Overstep the bounds and your songs would disappear from the radio, your books would not get published, and you might find yourself languishing in the basement of a library binding magazines. Artists who had been creating work before the revolution were particularly suspect, because they were deemed to have been tainted by capitalist ideology.
Today, Delgado says, censorship is more subtle, and that makes it worse. Instead of being overtly censored, musicians find their work space no longer available, or their songs simply don't get played. And as government restrictions fade and people become more interconnected, censorship becomes more of a social phenomenon.
While it explores the Cuban context, Zone of Silence takes a broader outlook as well. The documentary's participants thoughtfully consider topics including censorship in Pinochet's Chile, the attitudes and motivations of censors, as well as the damage caused by self-censorship - and, they point out, no society has ever offered complete and unfettered freedom of expression.
In a sly act of reverse censorship, Zone of Silence begins by obscuring the faces and voices of its participants, gradually making them clearer, and finally identifying them. The documentary also spices the discussion with amusing clips from Cuban films, including the Oscar-nominated Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate).