Review: ‘Cuba and the Cameraman’ Lavishes Love on a Country … and Castro

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Much to my surprise, I found out that Cuba and the Cameraman, a documentary film directed by Jon Alpert, is now available via Netflix—next on my list of films to watch! Here is a great review by Glenn Kenny (The New York Times):

The cameraman in “Cuba and the Cameraman” is the indefatigable documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert, the director of the movie. Which begins inside a car, in Havana in 2016, as the death of Fidel Castro is announced on state radio. The streets are nearly empty and have a haunted quality. Havana has seen a lot of change, but in some ways it still earns its reputation for being frozen in time.

Mr. Alpert’s movie is a personal examination of the ways Cuba changed and did not change over the course of the 45 years he has been visiting and filming there, shooting over 1,000 hours of footage in the country and even accompanying Castro on one memorable trip to the United States.

The director’s story begins with cofounding the Downtown Community Television Center, where he used scrappy video equipment to expose sweatshops and chronicle labor struggles in New York. His interest in Cuba grew out of his activism: “We heard that Fidel Castro was implementing the social programs that we were fighting for here in New York,” Mr. Alpert states plainly.

He doesn’t explain how he, an American, was able to enter Cuba for his first visits, when he toured schools and hospitals set up by what he calls “the revolution.” Later on, he was on the plane with Castro when he flew to New York to address the United Nations in 1979. In these and other scenes, Castro demonstrates his much bruited charisma, playing to Mr. Alpert’s camera in a slyly ingratiating way.

Mr. Alpert’s friendliness toward Castro and many of his policies will no doubt infuriate some viewers (the authoritarian regime’s human rights abuses are not addressed). But even those frustrated by Mr. Alpert’s politics will appreciate the ordinary Cuban lives he captured on his visits.

Among them is a little girl who Mr. Alpert tracks down decades after first photographing her, discovering a single mother of two trying to leave the island. Once she does, Mr. Alpert follows the children she left behind. There’s also Luis, an amiable slum resident who Mr. Alpert misses on one visit because he’s doing prison time for working the black market — an activity he cheerfully returns to on his release. Most memorable are Angel, Gregorio and Cristobal, three farming brothers who are able to beat Mr. Alpert at arm wrestling well into old age.

In part because of its political blind spots, “Cuba and the Cameraman” is captivating. (Whatever you think of Mr. Alpert’s perspective, it’s interesting.) But it’s mostly worth watching because of human stories like these.

For original review, see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/23/movies/cuba-and-the-cameraman-review.html?_r=0

See previous posts https://repeatingislands.com/2017/09/20/cuba-and-the-cameraman-film-review-venice-2017/ and https://repeatingislands.com/2017/11/22/filmmaker-forges-bond-over-decades-in-documentary-cuba-and-the-cameraman/

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