For his documentaries on Fidel Castro and Che Guevara Cuban-American filmmaker Agustin Blazquez’ takes a truly revolutionary approach. Rather than expecting officials of Castro’s police state to reveal facts, Blazquez interviews eye-witnesses to Castroism who are (get this!) free to reveal facts without threat of Castro’s firing squads and torture chambers!
And it’s not an inconsiderable threat. To wit: Castro’s Stalinist regime jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin’s own, murdered more political prisoners its first three years in power than Hitler’s murdered in its first six, and voraciously “devoured its own children,” complete with show trials. The cheeky Che Guevara often signed his correspondence “Stalin II.” (Tee-hee!)
Needless to add, his thoroughly novel approach to revealing what actually happened in Cuba has caused Agustin Blazquez major problems in the film industry. When back in 2001, he asked the American Film institute to screen his documentary “Covering Cuba,” the AFI’s President balked that such a documentary was “too controversial” for them to air.
The following week, the AFI cranked out the press releases and snapped on the spotlights to screen Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9-11. Controversy? What Controversy?
“The AFI later denied giving “controversial” as the reason for declining my film,” Blazquez says. “But it’s’ the absolute truth. I remember it like it was yesterday. And I’ll submit to a lie detector test while repeating it.”
In fact when the AFI proudly screened Stephen Soderbegh’s “Che” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 2008, the film’s “controversy” was cheekily flaunted by both the AFI and the stars as the film’s main cheeky charm. “Che Guevara is a hugely controversial figure,” snickered a dapper Lou Diamond Phillips in front of the theater. (Tee-hee!)
“Che” himself, Benicio del Toro, and co-star Joaquim de Almeida then snickered for the mics and cameras. Most snickering by these cheeky cut-ups (none would last a day as a Castro subject rather than a pampered Castro guest) came when referring to the film’s probable reception in Miami. This city, as you might guess, is home to most of the wives, mothers, daughters, sons and brothers of the defenseless men (and boys) who Che Guevara gleefully murdered in cold-blood. (Tee-hee!) See the snickering for yourself.
For his documentary “Che” The other side of an Icon”, (a sort of antidote to Soderbergh’s hagiography) a few years later Blazquez approached PBS—which refused to either fund or later to even broadcast the work. PBS seemed so outraged by a film that relies on eye-witnesses to Che’s handiwork—on men who worked alongside him in Cuba, on daughters and wives of his victims, on the very man who helped capture Che in Bolivia—that they rejected his 104 page proposal via a brusque phone call, rather than the customary mail. “We would never take on a project like this” PBS’ John Prizer told Blazquez. Then when Blazquez privately funded the film, PBS refused to even show it.
On the other hand, PBS hails Estela Bravo’s documentary Miami-Havana, as among the “10 best documentaries” of its POV (Point of View series.) Estela Bravo worked as an executive in Castro’s Oficina de Publicaciones Consejo de Estado (Publication Office of Cuba’s Council of State.) Cuban Dissidents refer to her a “Fidel’s Personal Documentarian,” and PBS refers to her as among their top ten filmmakers of 1992.
“As Fidel spoke I could feel a peculiar sensation in his presence!” gasped filmmaker and former Fair Play for Cuba Committee activist Saul Landau. “It’s as if I am meeting with a new force of nature! Here is a man so filled with energy he is almost a different species! Power radiates from him!” continued Landau. No trifling “tingle up his leg” for Saul Landau. Fidel Castro really Rocked-His-World!
Saul Landau’s 1988 film “The Uncompromising Revolution,” which fully delivers on the director’s above-mentioned hyperventilations was run nationwide by PBS in 1990.
The screenplay for the Soderbergh/del Toro Che biopic was based on Che Guevara’s diaries which were published by Cuba’s propaganda ministry with the forward written by Fidel Castro himself. The film includes several Communist Cuban actors and the other Latin American actors spent months in Cuba being prepped for their roles by members of Cuba’s “Che Guevara Institute.”
Castro’s own propaganda ministry boasted of their role in the film’s production: “Actor Benicio del Toro presented the film (at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater) as he thanked the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) for its assistance during the shooting of the film, which was the result of a seven-year research work in Cuba,” read their press release. The Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) is an arm of Stalinist Cuba’s propaganda ministry.
For their screenplays, Stephen Soderbergh and Saul Landau both relied on Castro-regime founders and apparatchiks. Estela Bravo is one herself.
Seems that if Agustin Blazquez wants assistance from PBS or the American Film Institute, he’ll first need a glowing reference letter from Fidel Castro, who jailed and exiled the most filmmakers in the Western hemisphere.