SHADOW OF THE HOUSE is a rare look into the life of renowned Cuban American photographer Abelardo Morell. The film explores how Morell uses his art to make sense of a life upended by geographic, cultural, linguistic, and political dislocation. It is an intimate portrayal of how one man’s personal struggle with loss, exile, and self-determination reflects the ways in which we all work to construct narratives that unite the past with the present and memory with desire. Morell has used this tension to fuel a career as a remarkable artist.
Morell’s life is utterly ordinary on the surface but our understanding of him deepens as layer after layer of the man and the impact of his experiences are revealed: his strange and compelling flight from Castro‘s Cuba in the early sixties, his adolescent years in New York City; his life as an American family man and photographer who is more comfortable working at home but whose career increasingly pulls him into the larger world.
Morell’s artistic process is central to the film. The film makes public the often unglamorous work that precedes his elegant, large format, black-and-white camera obscura photographs — the laborious process of finding locations and setting up rooms and the frustration of failed images. The film reveals his all-consuming drive to make images, despite what may be going on around him.
Working alone, director Allie Humenuk filmed Morell and his family for over 7 years both at home and abroad. During the filming, Morell returns to Cuba for the first time since his escape in 1962. This decision, and the intense anger and fear it arouses in his family, forces him to wrestle with his sense of identity, familial allegiance, and cultural politics. SHADOW OF THE HOUSE explores the intersection between these issues and Morell’s idiosyncratic artistic vision.