Fidel's Kind of Flick

A pair of Miami filmmakers head to Sundance with a new motion picture about a congressman turned Castro spy

Miami-Dade County lays claim not only to an endless stream of Fidel Castro-related paranoia, but also to a rich history of actual espionage. Havana's agents have infiltrated a half-dozen exile groups. Some highlights:

Bay of Pigs veteran Carlos Rivero-Collado formed a paramilitary group called the Pragmatistas in the early Seventies, then returned to Havana in 1975 to spill the beans.

A Cuban spy thwarted a plot by the paramilitary group Alpha 66 to kill Castro in New York City in 1979.

Alpha 66 military chief Francisco Avila astonished his cohorts in 1992 by announcing he was a double agent.

Brothers to the Rescue protege Juan Pablo Roque defected to the island in February 1996, just before Cuban pilots shot down two of the group's Cessnas.

Then this past September FBI agents arrested ten Cubans on a variety of espionage charges.

And now this: A Cuban-American member of Congress is a spy for the Castro regime. He has decided to run for president of the United States.

No, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart has not announced plans to challenge Al Gore in 2000, nor has New Times uncovered evidence that the Republican from Florida's 21st District is a turncoat (other than of the Democrat-turned-GOP kind; he defected to the elephants in 1985).

The statesman in question is U.S. Sen. Carlos Rodriguez, who exists only in the paranoid parallel universe of Deco, an unreleased feature film by Miami Lakes natives George and Charles Cotayo. Charles, a politics reporter for El Nuevo Herald, wrote the screenplay. George did just about everything else except act -- the film's press kit lists him as producer, director, camera operator, sound man, and editor. The brothers hope to screen their psycho-thriller at the Sundance Film Festival, which runs the last two weeks of January in Park City, Utah, and then at festivals in Florida.

Things get very messy in the film for Senator Rodriguez, his wife Elizabeth, and his mistress Diana, who is a Miami fashion photographer. "Why won't you divorce her?" Diana asks breathlessly as she and the senator make love. "Because I need her politically," Rodriguez responds. "I'm running for president," he informs her, now doing it from behind. "I have always wanted to be the first Cuban-American president."

Diana doesn't much like the whole idea. The romp is over. She seethes: "They're going to let a Hispanic run this country? You may be a hotshot senator, darling, but you're still a spic as far as they're concerned." She fails to persuade Rodriguez to drop his campaign. (The performances in this scene were also not persuasive, though the cinematography and editing are solid.)

Enter Dr. Swann, the head of a powerful secret-operations group within the U.S. government who has concocted a scheme to assassinate Rodriguez. He injects Diana with a top-secret narcotic called Decophanalin, Deco for short. The drug allows Swann to brainwash Diana into thinking she must murder Rodriguez to prevent the death of their mentally retarded love child. Rodriguez does not know the kid exists.

A Castro plot to gain control of the Oval Office? Who could be that paranoid about El Tirano, as a local AM talk show host is fond of calling him?

The Cotayos insist they are not engaging in artful exaggeration to make a point about the Castro-inspired myopia prevalent in some circles of Cuban exile culture. The dictator-versus-exiles tension simply lends itself to compelling cinema. "I'm an artist," explains George, seated on a black leather couch at Studio Center, a two-story warehouse-style building just off the Palmetto Expressway in Miami Lakes. "We did this film to appeal to an international audience. We're not political, regional, pro-Castro, pro-this or that." He plays a half-hour of the 112-minute movie on a video for New Times, then turns it off as one of Dr. Swanns's henchmen, Tex Mallory, drives a car through the Everglades with Diana in the trunk. "That's it," he announces. "I don't want to give the ending away."

George, who is 35 years old, has spent much of the past four years in a cramped room on the second floor of Studio Center, filming, editing, and re-editing the movie while local hip-hop artists record CDs downstairs.

During the time he worked on Deco, George directed music videos for local record companies such as Big Ballers, a hip-hop label in Fort Lauderdale. A graduate of the United States Naval School of Photography in Pensacola, he is the son of Cuban exile Ramon Cotayo, a Hialeah developer who helped finance the movie. George, who along with Charles put up funds, shrouds the cost in mystery. "No more than one million dollars and no less than one hundred thousand," he says. The small budget is one reason this is not a star-studded production. The best-known of the 40-member cast is Thomas Schueler, an obscure (but convincing) German actor.

George and Charles aspire to make thrillers with political themes in the tradition of Oliver Stone and Constantin Costa-Gavras. "I've just always felt there has never been a good movie, low budget or Hollywood budget, that has dealt with Castro in an absorbing, cinematic fashion," Charles adds. "But we didn't want to make that the focus of it. That's just one of the themes in the film, though it is a prevalent one."

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