Images of Exile

No money. No filmmaking experience. No hope for commercial success. Minor details didn't stop Joe Cardona and Alex Anton from exploring their Cuban heritage.

According to Bofill, the documentary, which was produced in Spanish with English subtitles, also opened doors for the nonviolent Cuban opposition around the world. Rompiendo el Silencio was shown at numerous international human rights forums and by student organizations from Russia to Uruguay. Eventually it was translated into German, Polish, French, and Portuguese. Copies were smuggled into Cuba, and in October 1994 the documentary was broadcast on Channel 23, the local affiliate of the Spanish-language Univision television network.

Aside from Palmer's investment and contributions from a few other private individuals, Cardona and Anton had financed Rompiendo el Silencio with money from student loans and on their credit cards. Emotionally and financially drained at the film's completion, they were hardly in a position to undertake another project. But the summer of 1994 brought the balsero crisis, and Anton and Cardona felt a moral responsibility to act.

Cardona recalls his frustration: "I didn't know whether to cry, pee in my pants, or scream -- because it's like the world isn't listening. Whatever your opinion is, get involved, learn, don't just sit back and smoke a cigar. There's some serious shit going on in Cuba. It's not about music and cigars and fun in the sun. It's about a human crisis."

Appalled by the superficial treatment the rafter exodus received in the media, they decided to make a second film that would analyze the political, social, and economic forces driving the crisis and would put it in historical perspective. "The decision to leave the country was as difficult in 1950 as it was in 1960 or in 1994," Cardona says. "Just talking to people who are going out to sea on a raft doesn't provide the full picture. You have to understand what has gone on for 36 years in that country. We didn't get to the balseros overnight."

Impressed by Rompiendo el Silencio, various high-profile civic leaders such as Leslie Pantin, past president and founder of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana and current president of the Orange Bowl Committee; Roberto Suarez, then-publisher of El Nuevo Herald; and Eduardo Padron of Miami-Dade Community College volunteered to help raise funds for the new project. "We saw the quality of the other film they had produced and we liked their historical approach," explains Cristina Mateo, interim dean of administration for Miami-Dade's Wolfson campus. "We felt there was a need for us to be involved in educating the community."

Cardona and Anton successfully solicited financial support from businesses and private individuals, but they eschewed political groups such as the Cuban American National Foundation, and warned potential donors that they would not be shown a script or have any editorial input. With a total budget of $180,000, the filmmakers launched an intensive research effort in November 1994, reading everything they could find on Cuban history, searching through old photographs, and reviewing hundreds of hours of historic footage.

They revisited Palmer's film library and delved into archives at the Wolfson Media History Center. They also journeyed to the United Nations in search of footage of Castro's speeches before that world body, and they pored over old news clips. Some of the most moving material in the documentary, like the interview with the rafter who drowned, came from journalists, photographers, and video buffs who had clandestinely filmed street protests or somehow obtained film from Cuban government archives.

Cardona and Anton spent hours in front of their VCRs, searching for scenes that would best convey the passion and the pathos of key historical moments. One night Cardona happened upon images recorded outside the Peruvian embassy in Havana in 1980, when thousands of Cubans mobbed the building hoping for political asylum and precipitating the Mariel boatlift. "When you find something at 4:00 a.m., and it is exactly what you are looking for, you are like, 'Aw man, yes!'"

Another find was the documentary that showed a young boy arriving alone in the United States with a battered suitcase. He was part of the Pedro Pan airlift, which began in 1960. Thousands of Cuban parents sent their children ahead of them to the United States, unsure of what they would encounter there but convinced it would be better than keeping them in Cuba. The scene, which is included in ?Adios Patria?, shows a social worker questioning eight-year-old Eduardo Roberto Gonzalez Dorta. His father is a bricklayer, he reports proudly. His mother is a laundress.

"And do your parents have their papers ready so they can come?" the social worker asks.

Eduardo smiles and shrugs. "I think so."
"Do you want to see them?"
Eduardo nods yes.

"I cry every time I see that, and I have seen it six or seven times," confides Alejandro Rios, who wrote film criticism in Cuba for eleven years and now works as a spokesman for Miami-Dade Community College. "At that age I didn't know what my father did or how old my mother was. They taught him everything because they didn't know when they were going to see him again."

Rios says ?Adios Patria?'s strength lies in its revealing historical material, including statements by Gen. Vernon Walters, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that he met with Fidel Castro during the Reagan administration in an aborted attempt to initiate a dialogue.

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