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The Singular Story of Unlucky Juan

A film by Ricardo Figueredo Oliva

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Seven pounds of rice, five pounds sugar, four ounces coffee, half a pound cooking oil, five eggs, 10 ounces beans, a small bread roll and a pound a half of meatthat’s the monthly allotment for Cubans under the country’s rationing system. 

An independent film financed through crowd-funding and without the financial support of traditional Cuban film institutions, THE SINGULAR STORY OF UNLUCKY JUAN is a comprehensive, accessible examination of the particularities of the Cuban economy. Using a fictional worker called Juan as an example, the film shows how the economy affects the daily lives of ordinary citizensand how badly it squeezes those who don’t have access to hard currency.

Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban Peso and the CUCa far more valuable currency pegged to international exchange rates. Tourists pay in CUCs and shop at CUC stores, which stock higher quality goods at a huge premium.

Divided into chapters covering rations, the marketplace, CUC stores, private business, corruption, economic migration, and future Cuba, the documentary walks us through how each of these affects Juan and those like him. The film interviews a cross-section of Cuban workers and an economist who favours a more free-market approach, and offers sometimes hypnotic shots evoking economic activity: butchers cutting meat, fruit vendors at markets, shops lined with luxury goods inaccessible to most.

Juan starts the month with 250 Cuban pesos. But once he’s paid for his food rations, extra food to meet his needs for the month, transit, utilities, and the new energy-efficient fridge he was obliged to buy (and use 20% of his monthly salary to pay off over a 10-year term), there is little left. No wonder so many Cubans rely on living with relatives, overseas remittances, or getting involved in corruption and the black market.

As bad as things are, Cubans worry about what the future will look like once relations with the United States eventually become normalized. Speaking about the US, they worry the Americans “will swallow us whole” and use words like “crushed” and “assimilated” to describe what may lie ahead. The door has already been slightly openedwith a new foreign economic development zone and relaxed rules allowing some Cubans to own private businesses. But these are no panacea either. Small-business owners report frequent harassment, ticketing for endless infractions, and bureaucratic roadblocks. “I don’t own this business,” says a tired-looking woman, “I am its slave.”

"The Singular Story of Unlucky Juan has the audacity to openly and bravely question the reality of the average Cuban who, even with their standard rations, is barely scraping by." Havana Times

"Joy, audacity; a timely addition to any examination of numerous areas of academic study: Cuba, U.S./Cuban relations, political and economic systems in Latin America, history, sociology... Profound and thought-provoking; a creative way to contemplate stories of human endurance in the face of oppression."Dr. Douglas J. Weatherford, in the journal Hispania

"By laying out the experiences of Juan, a fictional ordinary Cuban, this documentary does an excellent job of breaking down the complexitiesand ultimately the compounding inequitiesof Cuba's dual currency system." Dr. Sujatha Fernandes, Sociology professor and author of books including 'Curated Stories' and 'Cuba Represent!'

"Remarkable! Infographics, animation, text and detailed drawings contribute to a succinct explanation of a largely invisible problem." Inter Press Service en Cuba (IPS)

2018 Sneak Preview, Cuban Cultural Center
2017 Official Selection, Latin American Studies Association Film Festival (LASA)
2017 Official Selection, World Cinema Film Festival Amsterdam

52 minutes / Color
Spanish / English subtitles
Release: 2018
Copyright: 2016

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
The Cuba Media Project, Cuba, Labor Studies, Economics, Political Science, Latin America, Economic Sociology

Watch the trailer:

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