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.

Purchase of the film by PBS and international broadcasters would help defray some of the mounting costs of distributing the film, as would sales of videotapes. The two men say they have already spent the $180,000 they raised. Cardona estimates he invested $20,000 of his own money, much of it from a second mortgage he and his wife took on their home, and he is also carrying more than $10,000 in debt related to the film on his credit cards. Anton puts his involvement at $20,000 minimum.

This is the downside to documentary filmmaking, Cardona points out. He said he'd like to visit college filmmaking classes and warn students about the less glamorous side of the industry -- the busted credit ratings and frayed relationships.

But neither Cardona or Anton have serious regrets. "This is a choice we made," Cardona says. "I'm not a martyr or anything." Anton exuberantly reports that the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission will host a screening of the film this week during the commission's annual meeting in Geneva. ?Adios Patria? was broadcast two weeks ago on Channel 23, and though the time slot wasn't ideal -- it showed at 11:30 on a Saturday night -- it drew a large audience. The station, which paid $35,000 for broadcast rights, plans to air it again late this year or early next year. It is also slated to be shown on television in Puerto Rico.

While Anton continues to push ?Adios Patria?, Cardona and his wife Amy Serrano have embarked on another documentary. They are calling the project Our Generacion! Voices of Exile's Children. "It's about growing up Cuban American and what that means to different people," Cardona explains.

As part of the film, Cardona recently invited fourteen Cuban Americans for a Sunday lunch at Yuca restaurant on Lincoln Road. The second floor nightclub was temporarily transformed into a dining room and film studio. Cardona gave simple instructions: The guests, between 21 and 35 years old, were to gather around a table, eat, and chat. He prompted the conversation by calling out various subjects, from frivolous quince birthday celebrations to weighty matters like racism and human rights. He instructed them to speak in English, Spanish, Spanglish -- whatever they felt comfortable doing.

After amplifying the voices of dissidents on the island and of those who went into exile, Cardona needs to hear from his Miami peers. He wants to capture the contradictions of their fractured identity and to fit the pieces together into something coherent. Unlike his other documentaries, which were motivated by a sense of moral urgency, he is making this movie for himself. And although he has calculated a budget of $80,000, he is realistic about the film's narrow market appeal.

He and Serrano plan on holding fundraisers, and they have already persuaded some businesses to act as sponsors (Yuca, which hosted the lunch without charge, is among them). But Cardona is determined to make the movie regardless of backing. His experience has yielded a simple moviemaking axiom: "You start making the film, you go into debt, and then you hope and pray that money comes in. If it doesn't, you're screwed, but you have a film. That's the important thing.

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