Over the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing ads and articles touting a new Netflix documentary called Cuba and the Cameraman. Reading a couple of reviews of the film and its description, it appeared the production would be yet another addition to the vast library of so-called documentaries on Cuba that are really nothing more than Castro propaganda.
Since communist propaganda films are just not my thing, I saw no good reason to waste a couple of hours of my life. It would seem I made the right decision. As suspected, Cuba and the Cameraman is just another Castro propaganda film disguised as a documentary.
Vapid Cuban Documentarian Unwittingly Stumbles into Country’s Despairs
Jon Alpert spent decades asking incredibly dumb questions of Fidel Castro.
Perhaps the pedants are right and Lenin never actually used the phrase “useful idiots” to describe communist camp followers in the West. If so, it’s only because he never met the filmmaker Jon Alpert. Alpert has been regularly visiting Cuba for 45 years to interview Fidel Castro and in all that time, he’s never asked a meaningful question.
You think I’m exaggerating? I sooooooo wish. Consider Alpert’s round-trip from Havana to New York with Castro in 1979, when the dictator was planning to address the United Nations. Cuba’s army was intervening in Ethiopia, its economy had face-planted, and its domestic misery index was so high that the island would soon erupt into the Mariel boatlift, with 120,000 Cubans fleeing to Miami within a couple of months.
Alpert was the only reporter traveling aboard Castro’s plane and spent much of the trip, both coming and going, interviewing him. Here are some of the questions Alpert might reasonably have been expected to ask:
Two decades after you threw off what you called the yoke of American corporate imperialism, why do Cubans still need ration cards? Why is a tenth of the population living outside Cuba? Why are 15,000 Cuban combat troops mucking around in Ethiopia when you can’t keep food on the table at home? Are you ever going to hold elections?
Alpert, unfortunately, didn’t have time to get to any of those. As you can see in appalling detail in his 2015 documentary A Trip with Fidel, he was too busy on Castro’s pajamas and diet:
“What do you wear around the house?”
“Did you pack anything special?”
“Do you take all your food with you?”
I’m not sure how useful that was—even Castro seems barely able to keep a straight face when Alpert clamors to see the presidential bed in his hotel suite–but it’s surely Idiocy, the capital “I” not a typo.
Alpert’s newest fan letter to Castro, Cuba and the Cameraman, contains much of this same idolatry. Here’s Alpert, interrupting a delegate to Cuba’s Communist Party congress who’s in the middle of a standing ovation for a Castro speech, to ask if she likes Fidel. (I don’t want to break the exquisite dramatic tension of the narrative by giving away her answer.) Or cornering Fidel himself in another one of those exclusive interviews.
Q. Do you have a message for the people of the United States?
A. Always a message of friendship for the people of the United States for their hardworking spirit.
Even when Alpert inadvertently asks a question that might lead Castro into swampy territory, there’s never any follow up. When Alpert queries the Maximum Leader, during a visit to the United Nations, how he feels about a group of anti-Castro demonstrators across the street from his hotel, Castro blandly salutes the nobility of dissent. “I admire those who are against, because they are active,” he says. “They move around. They work.” That virtually begs for a question about Cuban dissidents like Armando Valladares or Ana Rodriguez, then both nearing the end of their second decades in hellhole prisons for defying the regime. None is forthcoming.
Watching even a few minutes of Cuba and the Cameraman comes at the cost of a fearful number of brain cells. (And if you sit through the scene in which Alpert’s young daughter asks Castro to sign a note to get her out of school, make sure there’s an ICU located nearby.) Yet, however unintentionally, Alpert has introduced some revealing moments into his film.
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