Born: Havana, Cuba, 11 December 1928.
Died: Havana, Cuba, 16 April 1996.
The son of a patent attorney, he was raised in upper-middle-class comfort but in his teens discovered Marxism and became active in Communist youth groups. Whiel studying law at the University of Havana, Gutiérrez Alea, nicknamed Titón, began shooting amateur shorts with an 8mm camera. One of these was made in collaboration with fellow-student Nestor Almendros. After graduating, rather than start a law practice, he went to Rome and studied for two years at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school. On returning to Cuba, he became involved in Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement and helped set up its clandestine film unit. In the period leading to and immediately following the 1959 Castro revolution, his documentary shorts became increasingly militant. In 1960 he was entrusted with directing the new regime’s first official feature film, Stories of the Revolution, a semidocumentary reconstruction of incidents leading to the historic event. After turning out a Cuban version of the oft-filmed comedy The Twelve Chairs (1962) and a propagandist drama on a Haitian theme, Gutiérrez Alea ridiculed the Kafkaesque side of Cuban officialdom in Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), his first film to capture international attention. The film received a special jury prize at the Karlovy Vary Festival, among other awards. The director’s reputation reached its zenith with Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), a fiction film, integrating newsreel footage, exploring one man’s alienation and soul-searching in postrevolutionary Havana. It was shown extensively abroad and won a number of international awards.