Filmmaker Dmitry Zhitov Finds New Emotions In Still Photography in Cuba

You are known locally as an award winning documentary filmmaker (South Beach On Heels), how did the idea of becoming a still photographer come about?

Last year I got a call to make a documentary about ultra marathon runner Alexis Garcia, who was going to run across his birth country, Cuba. While filming that project (“Run Across Cuba”), I traveled the entire island of Cuba for over 40 wonderful days, where I meet and talked to so many amazing Cuban people.  On one of my first days there I took out my still camera to capture a few of the people and sights to share with friends and family back home, and that is how it all started.
So it really was a wonderful accident?
Yes!  I always had my camera with me when I was exploring every province of Cuba. After a few days of taking pictures and showing them to people I was traveling with, I was encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity and to do something bigger than just taking pictures as keepsakes.
How is still photography different from film making?
In film, you capture so many moments and movements.  Even a simple smile coming onto a face — or fading away — can be 50 frames.  Film captures that range of emotions and movement beautifully.  But with still photography you only get to choose one frame.  You have to really learn to tell an emotional story in a single image.
What are some of the emotions you seek to invoke from people seeing your work?
All my projects are very emotional. South Beach On Heels was described as an emotional roller coaster, in it’s depiction of the ups and downs in the world of Miami Beach drag queens.  My new documentary about homelessness in Miami “Running” brings a lot of raw emotions to the surface as well.  I hope my Cuba photography project  will bring out the warmth and uniqueness of the Cuban people to those who have never been there.  I hope my pictures take them along on my unforgettable journey.
What did you personally take away from your time in Cuba?
I spent over a month in Cuba and loved every single moment of the trip — even when I got bitten by red ants while I was taking pictures of Sugar Cane workers  and was received medical care in a countryside hospital.   But what I loved most of all about the beautiful island was the people.  They were so welcoming, friendly and open. The streets were always full of people – walking, selling, buying or just talking to each other.  With their limited access to internet (only in big cities) and cell phones, the personal communication level is very high in Cuba.  People are always talking to each other and even to strangers like me.  I invited into their homes and offered coffee without expecting anything back.
What’s happening with your photos now?
Right now I am submitting some of my Cuba photographs to contests and festivals.  Some of the images were already selected by the Los Angeles CineFest in the best photography category. My work will also be at the Amblewood Gallery “Affinity” exhibition opening on February 20, and running through March 21 in Atlanta. I am very excited to go to that opening next week. I am also looking to show them in Miami in galleries or museums as well and maybe even turn them into a fine art photography book and call it “Faces and Voices of Cuba.”  Finally, I want to take the audio interview of the people I photographed and the ambient sounds of the music, cars, animals I recorded and include that in an exhibitions in gallery or museum spaces and call that the “Faces and Voices of Cuba.”
Are you still making films?
Always.  My newest documentaries “Running-Homeless Documentary” and “The Mob Wives Of Richmond” are finished  and will be shown this year a film festivals — fingers crossed.  “Made in Miami with Elaine Lancaster” and “Run Across Cuba” are in post production and hopefully will be completed this year.  “South Beach On Heels” is now available on Vimeo  for home rental.  You can read more about my upcoming projects including “Faces and Voices of Cuba” on my website.