Branded by Paradise and Maligned by Exile

by Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

© ABIP 1999. All rights reserved.

BRANDED BY PARADISE, is the kind of documentary that from the beginning grabs you and puts you on an emotional roller coaster. It grabs your heart and your innermost feelings. It touches you and leaves you marked forever. Nothing is the same.

It cannot be business as usual with Castro's Cuba after listening to the first-hand experiences of the women featured in this documentary. The 40-years of Castro's totalitarian communist regime has left these women from all walks of life and millions of other Cuban women stigmatized. Their lives were turned upside down by imprisonment, humiliation, torture, loss of loved ones, daring escapes and exile from their homeland.

Perhaps none of them ever thought of leaving and voluntarily abandoning their homeland, and their families. But they decided to fight to recover the freedom that was taken away. For the right to be free, they paid a heavy price. Some of the best years of their lives were sacrificed.

It is disheartening that what these women are disclosing has been going on for 40 years. It is shocking that the world has refused to listen to the testimonies of Castro's victims for so long.

This engaging and powerful 80-minute documentary, directed by Mari Rodriguez Ichaso must be seen, specially by the American people, who unfortunately are not very well informed of what has been going on 90 miles away.

Politicians, the US media and the centers of learning must see it. I hope PBS allows it on prime time. I hope Hollywood takes note of it. But after living in the US for 32 years experiencing a generalized rejection toward what Cubans have to say about their homeland, I am saddened to say that my hopes are not high for the distribution of this documentary.
There is a history of rejection of documentaries and films that dare to expose the reality of Cuba under Castro. For example, the late Oscar winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros and Orlando Jimenez Leal's documentary IMPROPER CONDUCT, and later Almendros and Jorge Ulla's NOBODY LISTENED as well as Jimenez Leal's 8-A received rejection from the US film festivals and the US media in spite of successes abroad. After a long battle, in 1990 PBS partially lifted their censorship and broadcast a truncated edition of NOBODY LISTENED, although in tandem with Saul Landau's pro-Castro THE UNCOMPROMISING REVOLUTION.

Leon Ichaso, an accomplished filmmaker and brother of the director of BRANDED BY PARADISE, also faced rejection with his film BITTER SUGAR, which also exposes the cruel reality of Castro's regime. His film was rejected in 1996 by The New York Film Festival along with THIS IS CUBA, another revealing documentary about Castro's Cuba by Chris Hume. BITTER SUGAR was also rejected at the 1996 Film Festival of San Francisco.

As a filmmaker, I also found rejection from colleges, universities and the US media concerning my 1995 documentary COVERING CUBA. Of 66 PBS TV stations contacted, 62 did not reply and the other four rejected it. Meanwhile, PBS has a history of showing many pro-Castro documentaries over the years.

It would be hopeful if finally a documentary or film about the ongoing tragedy of Cuba would be allowed to enter the American households on prime time to make the people seriously reflect and wake up from the barrage of propaganda that has them so confused and indifferent. Powerful introductory lessons can be drawn from BRANDED BY PARADISE.
In the US, the proverbial land of freedom, political beliefs cannot be used to determine who is qualified for a job. However, the well entrenched heard of pro-Castro sympathizers in the US media and film industry have, for four decades been discriminating against the many that do not share their political beliefs. They have exercised censorship, erected walls and closed the door to many artists, intellectuals and filmmakers. According to their beliefs we are "politically incorrect," effectively maligned and black listed.

In the future, BRANDED BY PARADISE, BITTER SUGAR, THIS IS CUBA, COVERING CUBA, 8-A, NOBODY LISTENED, IMPROPER CONDUCT, and other efforts by the malignedCuban American artists, intellectuals and filmmakers will stand tall because we dared to tell the truth and fought for it on behalf of an island nation surrounded by sharks.

Agustín Blázquez is the Producer/Director of the documentary COVERING CUBA.