Thursday, November 10, 2005
Twelve-year old Lizbet Martinez steps off the dock and onto the rickety raft her father had fashioned from innertubes, rope and scrap lumber. She clutches her only remaining possessions - a small bag of clothes, and a tattered violin. Three swimmers push them through the battering waves towards the open sea. One begs to join them. He would make the thirteenth person crowded onto this eight foot craft, but they can't leave him behind. Together they paddle through the night, but the progress is painfully slow. By morning the outline of Havana has just begun to finally fade. As Lizbet turns towards the black ocean, she thinks of the sharks and the storms and the journey that faces her, and wonders if she'll ever see Cuba again...
While this is a new and terrifying experience for her, Lizbet and her raftmates are following a well-worn path - a journey that began on New Years' Day in 1959. It was on that morning when Havana awoke to the rapidly spreading rumors that Fidel Castro and his band of bearded revolutionaries had defeated Cuban dictator Fulgencia Batista. Castro would soon emerge as Cuba's new leader, and life would never be the same for her six million citizens.
Under Castro's watch, the Cuban people endured one of the greatest social upheavals in the Western Hemisphere. He instituted revolutionary reforms so radical and pervasive that little by little he managed to alienate members from nearly every sector of the Cuban population - from the wealthy land and business owners, to the professional class, to the blue-collar laborers, and finally the poor. Eventually hundreds of thousands of Cubans left Cuba, most ending up in the United States.
Today the number of Cubans in the United States is over a million, and the exodus continues. It remains one of the most complex, and yet least explored, migrations in modern American history. While only ninety miles of water separate the two countries, a vast sea of political differences have ripped families apart, altered history forever, and continues to make the headlines today.
Voices From Cuba is a one-hour television documentary that explores this unique migration through the eyes of the people who lived it. We follow the personal immigration stories of a very diverse group of Cuban Immigrants - from their lives in Cuba and their decisions to leave, through their amazing journeys to the United States. We meet artists, students, writers, fighters, and dancers - young and old, black and white, rich and poor. We hear from those who came in the sixties and ache for a Cuba of yesteryear, and those who came in the nineties and recount life in Castro's Cuba.
Like Luis Rodriguez, a veteran of the Cuban army who left Castro's prisons in 1959, only to return to lead the first wave onto the beaches at the Bay of Pigs. And Neri Torres, an Afro Cuban dancer and choreographer who survived a nerve-wracking defection in the early nineties. And Lizbet Martinez, a twelve-year-old musical prodigy who was finally picked up by the Coast Guard in 1994, after seven days at sea on an overloaded raft.
These stories interweave with one another along a fascinating historic tapestry spanning half a century - from the roots of Castro's revolution, through the Cold War, and into the present day headlines. They wind through the major immigration waves that have made up this exodus - Post Revolution (1959-1962), The Freedom Flights (1965-1973), the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, and the Rafter Crisis of the 1990's.
We explore the abrupt and often bizarre ways each of these waves started, and how they just as abruptly ended. We see how the ever-changing policies of both Cuba and the United States have affected the desire and ability of these Cubans to leave their homeland. And we look at the huge impact these �migr�s have had on both countries - from the void they've left behind in a struggling Cuba, to the growing social and political power that they've developed in the United States.
We're capturing these stories by interviewing our subjects in a classic documentary style - looking slightly off camera to an unseen and unheard interviewer. We'll build upon this foundation with a blend of family photos, home movies, archival newsreels, and contemporary footage of each of our subjects. Interviews with a sociologist and an historian will provide context and objectivity, and minimal off-camera narration will help move the stories forward. And as music is such an important part of the Cuban culture, an original score reflective of the times will offer yet another voice to our film.
The final program will be a seamless integration of these elements, with a style far more personal than journalistic. Our goal is to transport the viewers into the very lives of these Cubans, and allow them to experience this migration and its historic moments first-hand. Every event will reveal itself from within the stories of our subjects - providing unique perspectives and multiple points of view. For example, we return to the day Batista fled Cuba through several eyes. Luis Rodriguez describes the strange and frightening way he had to surrender his arms and his freedom to Castro's troops; while Manuel Gomez remembers dancing in the streets with his family, hoping Cuba's new leader would free them from the poverty they had endured for so many years.
This fresh approach enables Voices From Cuba to explore the many themes and questions associated with this migration in a new way. For example, why did these Cubans leave Cuba while millions of others stayed? Do they consider themselves exiles from Cuba, or immigrants to the United States? How do they cope with this duality?
We'll look at some of the differences between those who immigrated during the early waves, and those who came over more recently. And as these differences emerge, we'll explore what ties these Cubans together - a common culture and language, the displacement from a beloved homeland, and the quest for freedom and self-determination in a new country.
In the end, Voices From Cuba will be a unique look at a migration that has forever changed the shape and texture of the United States. But it will also be a telling portrait of a people trapped in a kind of limbo - floating in a sea between the two countries they love. The United States has become their home, but Cuba will always be their homeland.
So as Castro reaches his final years, the big question of what will become of Cuba looms like a freighter in the Cuban American community. Some dream of returning to a free Cuba someday. Other say they'll stay in the United States, where they've raised families and lived most of their lives. But as this documentary reveals, all of them agree that the events of the last fifty years will have marked them and their descendants for generations to come.
To date we've researched and filmed many incredible stories, representing the diverse range we are featuring in this documentary. These stories will interweave with one another along a timeline spanning forty-five years - from the roots of Castro's revolution, through the Cold War, and into the present-day headlines.
Please click on any name below to see more details:
Lt. Col. Luis Orlando Rodriguez
Georgie Brooks & Tony Batista
Lt. Col. Luis Orlando Rodriguez - Was a soldier for the Cuban army under Batista's rule, and was captured and imprisoned when Castro took over. He later made it to the United States, only to return to Cuba to fight in the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. He ended up leading one of the first waves of troops onto the beaches. He describes his personal experiences in the battles that ensued. When it was clear they were losing, he and his remaining men ended up wandering the nearby swamps until they were caught.
Since we were the first group to be captured, they traveled us in the back of a truck, with our hands tied, through the middle of Havana... Here you were thinking you were doing something great for your country. And all of a sudden they parade you through the middle of your brothers and sisters - that you were supposed to liberate by risking your life in the process. And these same people were looking at you like you were an animal... and they are throwing tomatoes at you and bottles. And shouting at you and calling you all kinds of names... like gusanos (worms)...
I felt confused. I was a young man and I didn't understand some of these things. This was a tremendous blow.
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Neri Torres - An Afro-Cuban dancer who tried to defect in 1990 while on tour in Italy, but was caught by her agent in her hotel room and put in a psychiatric ward. She eventually made it to Miami. Now she leads a very prolific and successful Latin dance troop, and has worked with the likes of Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan, and Marc Anthony.
She describes life in Cuba during the seventies and the eighties, and the role of Africans in Cuban culture, religion, dance and music. She is very eloquent on the paternal qualities of the Cuban government and the adjustments Cubans have to make when they face freedom in the United States. She also describes agonizing over the decision to leave her homeland.
I used to sit and hang out on the sea wall, and think about what's beyond the sea. I used to watch the stars and say, 'my God, is there any way I can leave this country?' I love my people. I love my family. But I feel trapped. That's the sensation you have when you live in Cuba. So much water and you cannot go anywhere.
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Enrique Bassas - Enrique came over as a child from Havana in 1962 during an underground operation known as Pedro Pan. Between 1960 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, nearly 14,000 boys and girls aged six to seventeen were sent alone to the United States by parents who could not leave Cuba themselves. Many parents feared the state would claim responsibility for their children, and decided to send them abroad rather than risk losing them to the government.
Enrique recounts the horrific process of picking up the false visa, saying goodbye to his mother and father, and boarding the plane to leave - an experience that shaped the rest of his life. He has since fought against communism in Angola, Vietnam and the jungles of Nicaragua - and has an intense hatred for Castro and all things related to communism.
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Miguel Ordoqui - An artist who left Cuba on an overloaded boat during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift.
Miguel is very eloquent on art and life in Cuba, the problems of getting supplies, what it was like in the work camps of prison. We filmed him painting a work at his Miami gallery portraying faces with frowns holding up smiling masks. He explained that it represents the state of the people living in Cuba who have to support Castro and his causes on the streets, but secretly vilify the leader in their homes.
It's the two-face. One face in the street. Another face in the house. The two-face of the Cuban people at this moment. I don't have two faces. In America I have only one face. My face. And I say what I feel. That is the difference. I'm free. I paint what I want.
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Georgie Brooks & Tony Batista - A sister and brother from Havana who each separately recount what happened to them the day after the Bay of Pigs invasion. This was a particularly harrowing time to live in Cuba, because Castro had grown deeply paranoid, and violently suspicious of anyone wanting to leave the country. The Cuban police came to their home while they were eating dinner and arrested the entire family. She ended up captive in the city's sports stadium with her mother and hundreds of others that the government rounded up. He ended up in prison with his stepfather. They each thought the others were dead. They eventually made it to the United States after a nerve-wracking immigration experience.
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Lizbet Martinez - A twelve-year old music prodigy who left Cuba in a wooden raft with her mother and father during the balseros (rafters) crisis in 1994, carrying only her tattered violin. They were lost at sea for seven days before the Coast Guard finally picked them up...
Once they rescued us...it was a moment you wished you knew their language. That's why I played the violin. That was the only way of thanking them for what they had done.
So I played it for them and they were just like, Wow! A Cuban girl that knows the Star Spangled Banner. That was just amazing. They started crying.
She and her family were later brought back to Cuba and held at Guantanamo Bay, which was the policy at the time. Eventually they made it to the United States.
Lizbet describes beautifully what it was like to be a child in Castro's Cuba in the eighties and nineties. She also recounts what it was like to see the United States for the first time, and how amazed she was at all the products available to Americans in stores.
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Synopsis - The Voices - The Team - Trailer
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Posted by Kingmont at 11/10/2005 12:23:00 PM