Even in what we now know as the last few months of Fidel Castro's life, a hope for change in Cuba is documented in two upcoming HBO films: Olatz Lopez Garmendia's Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland, or Death and Jon Alpert's Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution.
Patria O Muerte was featured at the recent New York Film Festival in October, with a panel discussion at screening's end. Filmed over years with Garmendia creating clandestine ways of hiding her camera on the island known for censorship, she asked Claudio Fuentes to be her DP. Many at the panel wondered whether or not he would be allowed back into his country, as many of the interviews showed Cubans in poverty, unhappy with their lives. Getting these interviews seemed a remarkable feat. Julian Schnabel supported Garmendia's project as executive producer. Garmentia worked with him on Before Night Falls, the 2000 film he directed based on poet Reinaldo Areinas' book about his own great hopes for Castro's revolution before Castro clamped down on gays.
With the memory of that film in mind I asked Jon Alpert about Mariela Castro's work changing Cuban attitudes from homophobic to acceptance, the subject of his Mariela Castro's March: Cuba's LGBT Revolution, an upbeat journey through Cuba, with the LGBT community in full array, from flamboyant singles to same sex couples living together quietly open.
Jon Alpert: Fidel went to revolutionary heaven. He fessed up to what was a mistake and apologized for it. He was not in the everyday decision making, has not been in the loop going back to the Bush administration, 12 years, when he gave the reins to his brother Raul, Mariela's father. Mariela had a discussion with her dad to make sure he supports her. He has been cautious.
How well did you know Fidel Castro?
I spent lots of time with Fidel over the years. He came to the UN in 1979. Cuba was head of the Non-Aligned Movement. Fidel came to the UN to give a famous speech. I knew the competition to report on him here would be fierce, so I requested permission to travel with him in Cuba. I asked him, why did you allow me? He said, you were the only one who asked. I spent 3 days with him here, was right next to him. He was companionable and smart and did not expect me to be so audacious. I asked to see his bedroom. He was very accommodating.
Do you expect much to change with Fidel's death?
What may change now is that normal citizens will be able to go to Cuba and see it for themselves rather than leaving it to people like me to tell them what it is like. The spirit in which I made this film is for people to see how others handle matters. We might be able to deal with human rights better. We have a wonderful opportunity to learn while the door is still open.
In early November a special screening at the UN--possibly the only movie about homophobia to ever premiere there-- was followed by a dinner at Guantanamera. Justo, a famous chef who is openly gay came from Havana with his partner Ivan to cook Chris Andersen's Mangalitsa pig, raised in New Jersey. It seemed remarkable that Mariela Castro had taken on this cause. I wondered what her siblings were doing. Her two sisters, she said through a translator, were housewives, and her brother is chief of security. She said she knew her brother had been in the military, but not that he had this position.
Now, Jon Alpert is trying to go to Cuba to try to film some of the memorial service: "Something -maybe ashes-- is going to travel around Cuba for nine days. I think it is interesting they will cremate him and bring his ashes to Santiago de Cuba, to the cemetery where Jose Marti is buried."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.