On Tuesday night, the Miami Jewish Film Festival presented a sold-out screening of Rhonda Mitrani's Cuba Mia at Temple Moses. The film, which documents the story of a group of Cuban-born U.S. Jews who return to the Cuba of their childhood to find it both familiar and changed, also included a post-screening panel that had a large portion of the audience sticking around to discuss the film.
With the film as culturally relevant as it is in the current sociopolitical atmosphere, New Times had the chance to speak with the filmmaker over email just before the screening.
New Times: So, same obvious question as every interview out of the way first: What made you want to embark on making this documentary about Jewish Cubans returning home after 40 years in the first place?
Rhonda Mitrani: This was something new and mysterious not only for me personally as the daughter of a Cuban Jew but for a group of immigrants who had tried so hard to preserve their culture and rituals even though they were also adapting to their new American life. There were so many questions that it felt natural to document this epic moment in my father's life.
Why the decision to mix the footage from the trip with all the archival footage? Was it just the emphasis of nostalgia and contrast of “former Cuba” to “present Cuba”?
This film is focused on the sociological repercussions of the Jewish Cuban people when they are separated from their country, family and friends for so long. A common cause for leaving a country so abruptly is the changing of governments, and in this case, a revolution. We are seeing the same thing happen today somewhere else. I thought it was important to chronicle this historical event and how it affected each person on the trip. I attempt to go further and ask them about their roots before Cuba. This adds another layer to the immigrant's story and in particular, the Jewish immigrant.
It’s strange but not surprising to see reactions of individuals who aren’t complaining about the way they live because “they work” and suggesting that everything is fine compared to those who say “show everybody in America what a misery we live in.” Was it particularly jarring to see that or was it just a melancholy experience knowing that Cuba had fallen into the same system that many countries have fallen into?
It was jarring to me at the time because everything looked abandoned. Some could argue that they chose a simpler life and that in some way it is better. There are two sides to everything. For me, though, it was mostly melancholic to see dilapidated buildings that were once standing beautiful and tall, teeming with life in the arts, for example.
The reactions of all the individuals you went with to Havana are obviously captured on screen, and there were a lot of mixed, but positive, reactions about the trip and some closure was found. But it makes me wonder, over the years, have you kept up with them and further discussed the way the trip has affected them?
They have been waiting for a change. That is why it is a good time to ask them this question now. I believe they feel grateful for having gone — that has remained a constant.
To go hand in hand with that, there’s a timeliness to your film, which was made over a decade ago, considering the attempt of normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba today. Do you think you would want to expand on the stories of your subjects and their relationship with Cuba after these going-ons? And what would you tackle differently considering the shift in political relations?
Going back, and all of the mixed feelings that go with it, it's always a topic of conversation in my family and for all Cubans for that matter. And since we are Cuban and Jewish, the conversation is always passionate, loud, and accompanied by a lot of food.
And what do we have to look forward to from you as a filmmaker in the coming months?
I am currently in post-production for a short film that I recently directed called Super Market. The story is a dark comedy about pregnancy. Super Market is a playful story about what women today are confronted with the moment they become pregnant: a complex economic system engineered to capitalize on birth and toddlerhood — all of which makes it shockingly easy to forget the simple human miracle of creating a life. I am also working on a multimedia installation with a collaborative called RPM Project with Patricia Schnall Gutierrez and Marina Font that will be included in a solo show for the Boca Museum next fall.