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.

Walters is one of the national figures Cardona and Anton persuaded to cooperate. After months of coaxing, they also convinced Jesse Jackson to speak with them. At the last minute, Jackson wanted to cancel, but Cardona and Anton had already set up their equipment in his Washington office. The interview with Jackson provides one of the few anti-embargo voices in the film.

?Adios Patria? has been criticized for being too one-sided. At a screening on the campus of Oxford University, for example, students denounced it as propaganda. In response, Cardona and Anton say their goal was to tell the stories of the million Cubans who left, not to analyze the reasons why the majority of islanders have stayed.

Exile stories are often heart-wrenching, and Cardona and Anton consciously toned down some of their material so it would be more accessible to audiences outside Miami. "There's a stigma to being Hispanic in the United States," Cardona asserts. "Everyone is looking for melodrama. I'm not ashamed of my passion, but I know how I am being perceived."

Cardona also severely cut the story of Rita Le Sante, a Miami seamstress whose husband William was executed in 1961 for causing a power outage in Havana. The Le Santes were a middle-class couple with two small boys. William worked for the municipal power company in Havana. In ?Adios Patria?, Rita Le Sante recalls the day her husband was put on trial for sabotage. The proceedings began at 4:00 p.m. and lasted nine hours. Thinking that the trial would continue the next day, Le Sante returned to her home. Not long after she arrived, in the early morning hours, she received a call from her husband's lawyer: William was dead.

"They didn't let him say goodbye or see his children," Le Sante recalls in the documentary, speaking calmly, almost without emotion. "They said, 'Leave a note,' and that's what he did. It said, 'Now that death summons me, I want you to know that I am not afraid. The only thing I am worried about is the situation in which I am leaving you and the children. But at the same time, I die peacefully, because I know that you know how to be both mother and father. Take good care of them. Don't raise them with hatred or bitterness, and if you can, raise them in a better world."

Not included in the film is Le Sante's fight to view her husband's dead body before burial, and her own subsequent imprisonment. The filmmakers decided to concentrate exclusively on the lack of civil procedure. "How do you take 30-odd years of history and pick out the highlights?" Cardona asks. "What is important? You can vehemently disagree with ?Adios Patria?, but it is as honest a piece as we could put together."

The film had its first screening this past October at the Gusman Center in downtown Miami. The theater, which seats 1700, was packed, and the filmmakers received a prolonged standing ovation. "I felt like the entire audience was in tears," says Oscar Rivero, a Cuban-American attorney who took his mother to the screening. "I was in tears. It was very emotional. It hit me -- boom -- right in the face."

"The documentary deals with a history that is heartbreaking," observes Pepe Horta, former director of the Havana Film Festival who now owns Cafe Nostalgia on SW Eighth Street. "It has defects -- it is a little too long, and I think the truth within Cuban history is much more complicated and has more elements. But this is the vision of these filmmakers."

The 86-minute film is primarily in Spanish with English subtitles, though some of the interviews, particularly with U.S. politicians or academics, were conducted in English. The Spanish narration is done by salsa star Willy Chirino; a shorter, 56-minute version is narrated by Andy Garcia in English. Both Chirino and Garcia donated their time.

Cardona and Anton hope the Public Broadcasting System and foreign television stations will air the shorter version. In an effort to generate a buzz, Anton and his wife Betty embarked on a whirlwind bus tour of Europe this past January. It was Anton's version of a honeymoon. In order to save money, the couple signed up for a package tour. They prearranged screenings before human rights organizations and student groups in cities along the way.

"It was funny as hell," Anton remembers. "Everyone was a tourist, and here we were carrying all this material on the human rights situation in Cuba." They showed the film before small audiences in Spain, France, Germany, and England. Wherever they went, the Antons made sure they carried copies of Amnesty International's 1996 report on the human rights conditions in Cuba, which documented arrests of dissidents and allegations of mistreatment in jail.

Anton believes the tour was essential in raising consciousness about Cuban human rights violations. Still, the personal and financial costs for him and his wife have been high. They have spent tens of thousands of dollars in phone bills alone. "Here is one bill," Anton grimaces, displaying a BellSouth monthly statement with more than $4000 in long distance charges. "This is not a hoax," he groans. In order to pay the bills, Betty has taken out a loan on their home, which she owns. "We're gambling a lot," Anton continues. "But otherwise the film would have just died.... Joe and I in that sense are risk takers, because you don't do this film without taking humongous risks. This is not for the faint-hearted."

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