By Karen Dubinsky
Harry Tanner died November 7 2019 at the age of 85. I’ve only known him a couple of years. However, I’ve known him his whole life. I knew his parents, his father a Bank of Nova Scotia manager stationed in Havana in the 1940s and 1950s, where Harry grew up. I know Harry’s excitement about life in 1960s Cuba, where he was involved from the very beginning with Cuba’s revolutionary new film world. Despite his middle class background, banker dad and Canadian passport, I knew he was inspired by the social changes and utopian possibilities of his time and place. I knew about his controversial decision to leave the Cuban film institute in 1970 to become an independent painter, something he had to go to court to win the right to do (Cuban authorities decided that without being affiliated with an institution he was a “vagrant.”) I know that Black Panther Huey Newton, in exile in Havana in the 1970s, spoke of Harry with a certain awe, as a rebel who fought for the right to be an independent artist in 1970s Cuba. I know the beauty of his extraordinary artistic productions: his films are stories on celluloid, his paintings tell stories on canvas. I know some of his personal highs and lows. How he had to continually account for his decision to stay and participate in Cuban cultural life after most foreigners –including his parents of course – left after the 1959 revolution. I know how much that storied place and that fabled decade – Cuba in the 1960s – fuelled him, but I also know how frustrated he became with the institutionalization and bureaucratization of rebellion and creativity. I know how saddened he was by the end of his first marriage, to a Cuban actress with whom he shared a decade of cultural involvements, how thrilled he was when his beloved daughter was born.
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