Shoot Down Q&A

Since there’s been so much talk about the documentary film Shoot Down (in selected theaters now) and what it does contain and what it does not contain, I thought I’d reach out to Cristina Khuly, the filmmaker to ask her a few questions. Below are her answers.
Why did you make this film?
I made this film for two reasons. To set the record straight about the shoot-down, Castro and the Cuban-American community, all of which are woefully misunderstood in this country and the world. Second to honor the four men who gave their lives to help others.

What are the main differences between this film and the one you screened in February 2006?
The theatrical release film is easier for the average person to understand. It is shorter and less issue dense. I reduced the number of characters in the film and gave more of a background to why there are Cuban exiles and what does that mean to those in our community.
Some people are disturbed by the inclusion of Saul Landau in the film. He has a long history of being an apologist for Castro and the communist system in Cuba. What do you think he adds to the film?
Documentaries should have different points of view otherwise they are propaganda. By including different points of view, some of which are painful to my family, and me I allow the viewer to make up their minds.
Also, having Mr. Landau say that there is no political freedom in Cuba, no free press, etc., carries a lot more weight than if a Cuban American says the same thing.

Why do you think some people in the exile community have reacted negatively to the film?
There are people in our community that have been so hardened by the misinformation that is prevalent in the media about Cuba, that they want a pure voice to “yell” back and say this or that is not true. The reaction is understandable, but it only reinforces the stereotype that Cuban American’s are all right-wing fanatics. If you show all the positions, the truth is really easy to spot for most people. It is just hard to see people that you so disagree with given any platform and some cannot take that.
Is there one overriding take-away you want people to get from the film?
Yes. There was a brutal crackdown of political dissidents on Island, Concillio Cubano was crushed. The BTTR planes were in International Waters and the men were murdered AND the whole world agreed to the legal facts of this statement. Consistently we get the following reaction when audiences see the film. The average American says, “I didn’t know that, where was I when this happened. They see that these men were murdered and the legal system proved that. They see, for the first time in many cases, the dark side of the revolution in Cuba.
What the single-most misunderstood aspects of the actual shoot down?
The single most misunderstood aspect is that the planes shot down were in International air space, and were never in Cuban air space.
What the single-most misunderstood aspect of the film?
The role of a documentary. A documentary should put forward the fact of a subject and let people decide for themselves.
The film seems to end on the idea that Cuba and the United States were moving toward some sort of negotiated agreement that would end decades of isolation of Cuba and the shoot down derailed that course and instead drove the parties apart even further. Is that your personal view? Do you think a negotiated settlement was possible in 1996? If so, then who is really responsible for the continuing hostility?
Cuba felt pressure in 1996. They had lost economic sponsorship from the Soviet Union; the economy was in free fall. There was a growing dissident movement on Island and for the first time, the European Union was willing to recognize these human rights activists. There was a U.S. administration that was open to a dialog. The stage was set for change.
The result was that Cuba shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft in violation of International Law. Certainly they knew that this would end any hope of better relations with the U.S.
You must have two parties willing to make a deal. We did not have that in Cuba. That being said, I feel that if we could have a better understanding of the realities of life in Cuba by the average person in this country, in Latin America, in Europe, then with concrete steps on Cuba’s side, change could come. But so far, that negotiating partner is not at the table and that coupled with the hurtful misunderstandings consistently portrayed in mass media, we have the status quo.

Jose Basulto was critical of the first version of Shoot Down. Have you talked with him about his objections? Has he seen the new version of the film? What if any feedback has he had?
We do not know if he has seen the film that is in theaters. When the average person sees the film, they see the great work that BTTR did as an organization. They recognize the complex nature of advocacy. After the change in immigration policy, BTTR was an organization that was more political; it was challenging what was going on in Cuba.
Some see the film and see Basulto as a hero, some as reckless, some as dangerously provocative. But, that is what being an activist is all about and we respect that in this country and the world when it comes to human rights, environment, and other cases. When an activist is involved in something that causes the loss of life, there will always be questions of judgment. The film allows people to make their judgment on this and other issues.

Shoot Down is playing in the following cities at the following theaters. Please support this film and judge for yourself. See it quickly, needless to say this will be a limited engagement.

16 thoughts on “Shoot Down Q&A”

  1. “documentaries should have different points of view otherwise they are propaganda.” Not if the documentary presents the truth, and including narrative from a lifelong castro propagandist in my view detracts from her stated purpose of the documentary. Would a documentary about the Holocaust also have to include a Nazi for validation?

  2. The problem is that what you and I know to be the truth is not widely known and accepted as the truth. If you exclude comments that are useful to your argument simply because they come from someone you don’t generally agree with, how does that help? If there is no perceived balance in the documentary then it would be way too easy to discount as propaganda. Sorry Z, I have to disagree. The things that Landau says in the film are either truths that even he can’t paper over or are otherwise disputed by the rest of the content of the film.

  3. You’re right, we disagree. A good documentary doesn’t have to include moles. As hard to watch as they are, I think the footage of fidel, alarcon, Clinton, and others provide that balance, we know who they are. Ask yourself this, If Landau was presented as a American communist who has spent almost 5 decades supporting, defending, and creating propaganda for the regime, wouldn’t people question why he is in the film and where is his counter? His “truths” only serve to validate everything else he says, and it is my opinion that is propaganda. His presence dilutes the power of the truth, as does not giving the families of the victims the last word. I left the theatre angry. That being said, I do recommend that every one go see it, and I especially hope that Americans go see it.

  4. Just his presence upset me, if this is a documentary that wants to present “the truth” about this incident, then why include Landau, who has made a career of repeating the regimes lies? How does that serve the truth?

  5. Are people criticizing this movie that much? My point of view is that we need to attack the castro regime on all fronts. It has to come from the right. It has to come from the left. It has to come from movies, music, art, books, everywhere. The message has to permeate the American consciousness, which it has not done in today’s society.
    I look at the general thrust of all these things that go out for public consumption. The average American will come away with a clear message.
    The inclusion of Landau, or whoever, doesn’t matter. What matters is what the average American walks away thinking. After all’s said and done, they won’t remember the details or the individuals who speak, they will remember ONLY the take-home message.
    So when we as a community, fight and bicker amongst ourselves about these details, it undermines this whole message, and our credibility as a group. We are missing the forest for the trees, people.

  6. Dave, As far as I know,Henry and I aren’t fighting and bickering. And, I agree with you, that the take home message is what is important, and that’s my point, it is my opinion that the take home message is compromised by the inclusion of Saul Landau.

  7. Z,
    When i saw the movie 2 years ago I didn’t know who Saul Landau was and only because I was paying close attention to all the names of the people that appeared in the film did I note who he was. Perhaps he said outrageous things in the interview but that’s not reflected in the film.

  8. Humans understand contrast more than anything else. To see light you need darkness. To appreciate good there must be evil.
    A good documentary will show multiple points of view even when its sole purpose is to prove a point conclusively through preponderance of evidence. Showing your opponents making a fool of themselves on camera when faced by irrefutable evidence, is not only fun, it’s good for the cause.
    It is seldom enough to prove that your cause is just, to win decisively you must also prove that your opponent’s cause is unjust.
    It will be do more for the cause as a documentary a wide spectrum of viewers may be inclined to watch than as a blatant propaganda piece that will die in the can.

  9. I watched the documentary and I’m fine with it. I did get the sense that they went out of their way to make a balanced and unbiased presentation of facts. I can understand their reserve considering how loosely “documentary” is thrown around by entertainers and nut jobs.

  10. Ziva, I certainly agree with you in principle, but unfortunately, reality sucks, and it sure as hell isn’t fair.
    Nobody, regardless of ideology, would dare give anything Nazi the slightest benefit of the doubt (except some Aryan supremacist, who’d be immediately dismissed as a nut case anyhow). However, as you are obviously excruciatingly aware (like all of us), it’s not only perfectly OK but downright trendy to give the Castro regime every possible leeway, excuse, or dispensation. It’s been that way for nearly 50 years and counting.
    I know this state of affairs stinks to high heaven, but it’s the way it is. The world is full of shit and shitty people like Landau. I’m sure Khuly meant well, and maybe what she did was reasonable on a purely pragmatic level. I’d have to see the film myself. My point is that, all too often, we as a people are put in a no-win situation: damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Of course it’s not right, but as I said, reality sucks.

  11. Ziva and Henry,
    No, I didn’t mean that YOU TWO were bickering, I was just surprised that a movie like this wouldn’t be fully embraced by our community. Or maybe not so surprised. Even Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” was quibbled over by some in our community, which is a damn shame.
    The quibbling misses the point, I think. Yes, it’s true, a castro apologist isn’t my favorite source of information. I never heard of Laundau before, and I doubt most Americans have either.
    But despite the fact that there are some divergent opinions, and maybe some problems, a movie like this, or a movie like The Lost City, still leaves the viewer with the overall impression that “hey, Cuba’s government is still pretty terrible, even after all these years.” So if there’s some sort of dissenting viewpoints, they are mitigated by the fact that the facts speak for themselves and the overall thrust of the movie.
    Even if something is 60% anti castro and 40% in favor, I would rather have that message out there than nothing at all. And so far, Cuban-Americans have ranged from “nothing at all” to “wackos and extremists” in the media. So that 60/40 movie is better than what we currently have.
    We need all the help we can get! And despite whatever flaws it may have, this movie HELPS our cause.
    I haven’t seen it yet (I hope it comes to New York) but I support anything that reveals the castro regime for what it is. Even if it’s not 100% anti castro, if the balance of the movie helps our cause, I’m in favor. And that cause is to spread the message of the realities of castro’s Cuba.

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