Maestra and Maestras Voluntarias

Directed by Catherine Murphy

Cuba | 2022 | 51 minutes | Color | DVD | Spanish | Subtitled | Order No. 141121

MAESTRA (2012)

Two films tell the courageous history of the first Volunteer Teachers in Cuba and the women who laid the groundwork for a massive National Literacy Campaign that would teach more than 707,000 Cubans how to read and write. 


This 10th anniversary edition includes two films by Catherine Murphy about the National Literacy Campaign in Cuba: MAESTRA (2012) and MAESTRAS VOLUNTARIAS (2022).  

In 1961, over 250,000 Cubans joined their country’s National Literacy Campaign and taught more than 707,000 other Cubans to read and write. Almost half of these volunteer teachers were under eighteen years old, and more than half were women. 

Narrated by Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, MAESTRA (Spanish for teacher) explores the experiences of nine of the women who, as young girls, helped eradicate Cuban illiteracy within one year. Interweaving interviews, archival footage, and campaign photos, this lively documentary includes one of the first Cubans of her generation to call herself a feminist and one of the first openly proud members of Cuba’s LGBTQI community. With wit and spirit, all recall negotiating for autonomy and independence in a culture still bound by patriarchal structures. MAESTRA highlights the will and courage that made the monumental endeavor possible and the pivotal role of women’s and youth empowerment in building a new society. 

MAESTRAS VOLUNTARIAS builds on the story of the original film and includes additional interviews and archival footage. Ana Deborah Mola and Belkis Lescaille, who were among the first of the volunteer teachers who laid the groundwork for the revolutionary National Literacy Campaign that would follow, are featured. The 10th anniversary edition DVD, as well as the Digital Site License, includes both films. 


“Highly recommended for all audiences; perfect for a classroom setting with ample time for discussion."

Christine Rigda, Library Journal

"This film brought tears to my eyes. It is beautiful."

Alice Walker, Writer, Peacemaker, Pulitzer Prize Winner

"Catherine Murphy has created a project with rare and intimate access....Her film will preserve the oral histories of a generation that will soon be gone. The historical significance of this archive -and its lessons for the present- cannot be overstated."

Howard Zinn, Historian and Author

“’MAESTRA is a compelling and beautifully filmed reconstruction of one of the most significant campaigns in Cuban history.”

NACLA Report on the Americas

"This film will make a significant contribution to our understanding of our neighbor nation of Cuba -as well as literacy itself- and serve as an important tool in the struggle for justice."

Dolores Huerta, Co-founder, United Farm Workers & President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation

"Catherine Murphy's project rescues the most important literacy experience in the Americas. The result, I am certain, will rise to the challenge."

Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan Writer & Journalist

"'MAESTRA’ is a celebration of the joy of teaching and learning despite all obstacles."

Progreso Weekly

“[T]his excellent documentary artfully… examines the campaign’s effect on women and how it enabled them to challenge traditional gender norms… the film is an excellent addition to any syllabus on the Cuban Revolution as well as on revolutionary transformation and revolutionary societies generally."

The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History


  • Black Maria Film Fest, Director's Choice Award
  • Indie Fest, Winner, Best Woman Filmmaker Award
  • Ojai Film Festival, Honorable Mention
  • Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles
  • San Diego Black Film Festival
  • Mumbai Womens International Film Festival
  • Festival ICARO, Guatemala
  • Havana Film Festival in New York
  • Panama Festival
  • AFI Silver/DC Caribbean Film Fest
  • Central Wisconsin Film Festival
  • Festival de Cine Pobre, Gibara, Cuba
  • Festival de Cine Cubano in Florence, Italy
  • Muestra Itinerante de Cine del Caribe (Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Costa Rica, Aruba, Panamá)
  • Vermont International Film Festival
  • Traverse City Film Festival
  • Raindance Film Festival
  • San Francisco Documentary Film Festival
  • New Orleans African Film & Arts Festival
  • African Diaspora International Film Festival
  • Bahamas International Festival
  • San Francisco Latino Film Festival
  • LA Femme Film Festival
  • Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival


Catherine Murphy

Catherine Murphy is a DC-based filmmaker who has spent much of her life living & working in Latin America. She is founder & director of The Literacy Project, a cross-platform documentary and popular education project on literacy in the Americas. 

As an independent producer, Murphy's work has focused on social documentaries. She field produced Saul Landau's Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?, Eugene Corr's From Ghost Town to Havana, Matt Dillon's El Gran Fellove. She created Spanish versions of several English language documentaries including  OUT  and REFUSE NICKS  by Sonja de Vries and  STEALING AMERICA by Dorothy Fadiman. She served as an archival researcher for Susanne Rostock's biography of Harry Belafonte, Sing Your Song. 

After a decade of producing films for other documentary makers, her directing debut was in 2012 with the mid-length doc  MAESTRA, which has enjoyed robust distribution since release, has been translated into six languages, and has inspired other academic research. 

A series of films about literacy and education followed MAESTRA including THEY SAY I’M YOUR TEACHER which explores the 1950s South Carolina Citizenship Schools started by Septima Clark, Esau Jenkins and Bernice Robinson in collaboration with Highlander Folk School; Silvio Rodriguez: mi primera tarea, and MAESTRAS VOLUNTARIAS. She is now working on a feature documentary on the early pedagogical work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. 

Four short stories based on her interviews were published in Eduardo Galeano's penultimate book, Espejos. 

Her MAESTRA archives were acquired by UNC in 2015. (01/22) 

Lilian Lombera

Lilian is a creative producer, art curator, project manager, and event coordinator. She specializes in Cuban and Caribbean music, art, and culture. She creates and supports collective transformative experiences that connect people, stories, cultures through art.

Lilian manages The Literary Project's Kreyol and Portuguese projects. (09/22)


Director & Producer

Catherine Murphy  


Producers - Productores  

Lilian Lombera   

Josué Garcia    


Production - Producción  

Rubén Carreño    

Ricardo Figueredo  


Cinematography - Fotografía  

Iván Nápoles  


Editor - Montaje  

Daniel Diez Jr.  


Sound - Sonido directo  

Marcelo Suárez 


Title Design - Diseñador  

Marcelo Martin  


Color Correction - Corrección de Colores  

Marcelo Martin  


Project Advisor - Asesora  

Luisa Campos 


Archival Research - Investigación de Archivos  

Micaela Ovelar  


Legal Advisor - Asesór Legal  

Bill Martinez  



Magia Lopez  

Lusmila Lamonthe 


Translations - Traducciones  

Caridad Nussa Morales  

Johan Misler  



Marcelo Martin  

Nexo Multilingual 


Archival Sources  

Noticieros ICAIC, Archivo fílmico del ICAIC, Museo de la Alfabetización, Oficina de Santiago Álvarez, Archivo de Revista Bohemia, Archivos de Revista Granma  



Director & Producer

Catherine Murphy  


Eve Goldberg


Iván Nápoles

Roberto Chile

Rubén Carreño 


Miriam Machado-Luces

Kofi Taha

Director's Assistant/Webmaster Yeiber Cano

Director's Assistant

Gabriela Luz Sierra

Production Assistants

Malena Barrios, Arlen Benjamin-Gomez, Cristina Carasquillo, Arsenio Castillo, Ivonne Chapman Mil, Ricardo Figueredo


Rosanna Figueroa, Rebecca Herman, Jesse Meadows, Annery Rivera, Tamara Rosenblum, Toni Ruiz-Firmat, Mariah Tuffey, Ireece Underwood, Katrina Wong


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