In Cuba, the government has long used journalism as a tool of propaganda - and for that, until recently, it has been largely unapologetic. Following the revolution, the role of the news media was envisioned as one of education and garnering mass support for the Cuban political project.

The narrative devices, distraction techniques and visual wallpaper in news bulletins are designed to produce propaganda. And so, the reality of food shortages are glossed over with celebrations of harvests and the challenges of the present are deflected with anniversaries of the past.

"Sometimes I turn on the national news and the headline is that a farm in the province of Mayabeque met or surpassed its potato production. In fact, people say that if you want to eat potatoes, just watch the newscast, it's the only place you can actually find them," says Carlos Galiano, a film historian.

And while the government has recently called for journalism to become more critical, progress has been slow.

Traditionally, subjects such as state security, Fidel Castro, the representation of national heroes as imperfect, as flawed - cinema has been at the forefront in dealing with these taboos.

Eduardo del Llano, Cuban screenwriter & director

The Cuban film industry is a different story. 

Cuban film has been less timid, much bolder in tackling the country's challenges and contradictions - and that's been the case since the beginning of the revolution.

In 1959, the first cultural policy passed by Fidel Castro's government was Law 169, which laid the foundation for a cinema production not just of creative expression, but of critical endeavour.

In effect, cinema was seen as a powerful messaging tool for the revolution and filmmakers were given a level of autonomy that state news outlets could only wish for.

The Cuban film industry pioneered what became known as "Third Cinema" - an attempt to free itself from US cultural dominance, to produce a homegrown, more politically engaged and less commercially beholden cinema.

The films that were born of this movement challenged creative narrative and political limits.

"Traditionally, Cuban cinema has always tried to reflect and push further on subjects that have not been seen in official media, like TV and print. I think directors like Tomas Gutierrez Alea have been able to bring nuance to the darkest areas of Cuban reality," says film producer Claudia Calvino.

Cuban film directors can get away with showing things that journalists cannot. Subjects like education, health, gender, sexuality, workers' rights, state bureaucracy have been recurring themes - sometimes even the Cuban news media itself. And usually, although contemporary economic realities have recently forced filmmakers to look abroad for funding, Cuban cinema is funded by the very same state that it criticises.

"I think cinema has provided an alternative means of communication to address certain subjects. Cinema has been able to deal with these issues in a more direct and raw way, in the way that everyday Cubans really experience them," says Galiano.

Contributors:

Eduardo del Llano, screenwriter and director of Brainstorm
Luis Alberto Garcia, actor, Brainstorm
Carlos Galiano, film historian
Claudia Calvino, film producer

Source: Al Jazeera