Culture, Multiculture, Our People, Screen

Abel Arcos: Writing a script isn’t making an island

Berlinale returns to Cuba after almost two decades. The miracle that has allowed this barely goes over an hour of filming. It’s called “The Swimming Pool”, and it was born one afternoon a couple of years ago when it’s writer, Abel Arcos, was watching a newscast on TV. 


Abel Arcos

Liomán Lima


He recalls that he was watching a newscast because he had nothing more entertaining to do. He was in a cloud of slumber when a news story, an embryo of history, moved him. Even today he doesn’t know what did it (compassion, a fibre, a thought, or certain emotions?).

It was about a man that wanted to dedicate himself to teaching swimming to children with problems, whether mental or physical.

By then, Abel Arcos was studying editing in the Audiovisual Media Faculty in the Higher Art’s Institute in Cuba. He wrote stories (“He tried writing literature, and in the meantime, went to school”), but it wasn’t until that day when, perhaps without even realising, he unexpectedly opened up a new path for his life.

Abel Arcos 06He got up and began to write. After frantically rewriting (because “it is always more important to rewrite than to write”, he says), his first screenplay was born, with a body of 60 pages, an unusually slow tempo and some unusual characters for Cuba.

The story takes place throughout one day during a swimming training. There are four main characters, plus a coach and some of the parents. Each carries the burden of their disability, physical or emotional, their apathy, and their everyday nothingness.

Arcos christened it “The Swimming Pool” and since then, under that name, it began to bring good luck. In those days (another mystery of chance), the call for the section Using Film Festival of Young Filmmakers had opened, promoted by the Cuban Institute of Cinematic Arts. He presented the project, and won.

“After that stroke of luck and, above all, after I got paid, I told myself that writing scripts wasn’t actually that bad”.

Then it was the recognition at the Film Festival in Havana and then the confirmation of grace: the invitation to the Panorama section at the Berlinale, which has been taking place since the 7th of February.

Abel Arcos 12Early life and influences

 Although the miracle began with “The Swimming Pool”, it was in a dark room when Arcos decided that he wanted to write for films. He saw Blow up, the dark and poetic work by Antonioni. He says that the final scene of the film is partly the reason he has dedicated himself to scripts.

He writes because he isn’t interested in the other side of the business. He assures that he has no interest in directing, or to appear in a film.

Too chaotic for his taste. (“If it’s up to me, I try and be as far away as possible from the shooting; but if I think it’s essential for me to take part, then I would think about it. Also if they pay me more for being present, then I’ll attend without any problems”).

Abel Arcos 11For Abel Arcos the creation process depends on the obsessions of each director (“The writers work goes largely into channelling and giving shape to those obsessions” he says).

In the case of “The Swimming Pool”, he states that everything was much easier, due to the fact that it has ties that go beyond cinema, and closer to life, with its director Carlos Quintela Machado, (“as we are friends, there are things that go without saying, like-minded others, and the work is much more level”).

He confesses that he feels freer when he doesn’t have to write with the director in mind.

Abel Arcos 03It happened once, when he prepared the script for his thesis at the Film School of San Antonio de los Baños, also in Cuba. It was called The Fans and received a prize at the Cine Pobre Film Festival in Gibara, in the eastern region. (“It is a text written entirely to my taste, which means as it didn’t have a director; I could do what I wanted to, it is good to do what one wants”).

In terms of literature he claims to not have any fixed tastes, but every so often they’re renewed. He couldn’t say any specific books and so prefers to speak of authors, “Robert Walser, Elias Canetti, Juan José Saera, Iosif Brodsky, Peter Redgrove, Iosif Brodsky again, and many others”.

Abel Arcos 10
Abel Arcos

In film it’s different…as he prefers a million more authors: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “without a doubt, this is the greatest Turkish man” Marco Ferreri, Victor Erice, and the recently deceased Manoel de Oliveira, “still filming at 100 and his films are the most modern ones that I’ve seen since Antonioni, of course, and all movies with screenplays by Rafael Azcona, and almost all scripted by Tonino Guerra, and some films scripted by Carriere”.

With regards to his job, he says it’s obvious that the writers are falsely autobiographical.Although most of the time –he says- you don’t know to what extent is about them in what they write.

Abel Arcos 05However, he says that “The Swimming Pool”, as well as the fact that he likes swimming (he practiced swimming and lives next to the sea) “there isn’t much more, superficially speaking”.

“From there -he adds- if we go into what I wanted to talk about with the script, it can be something different”. Although after he explains that: “Actually it can be anything”. Maybe because he has always thought that “it is a little fake that a writer would talk of their script as something independent and separated, like someone making an island”.

“When talking about “The Swimming Pool”, you should talk about the film as a whole, living and indivisible. Talking about the script, or the photography, or the montage is something that corresponds to the theorists, to teachers, to those who discuss it whilst leaving the cinema, like talking about the ball”.

Abel Arcos 07After his experience with this film, he believes it’s possible to bet that Cuba will release more reflective films, which distance themselves from easy jokes, from simple pleasantries with the spectator and rampant social criticism.

He believes it is possible to try, and that it is possible to die trying but that’s the whole point of it.

“I write what I like, or what I feel like writing, I do not think about any viewers when I do, I think it’s silly to think about pleasing or scaring a viewer. That is something that is completely out of my hands”.

He says his work is only limited to writing, and then to “praying” so that what he has written is filmed. And if the latter fails (“several scripts in the drawer give evidence to it”), he assures that he will start writing again with the same tranquillity.

In short, he is convinced that if what he writes isn’t filmed, it doesn’t mean “in any case whatsoever, that I should write rubbish”. (PL)


(Translated by: Sophie Maling – Email:

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