Doc-logoOverview: From first-time director Olatz López Garmendia, and executive produced by Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) PATRIA O MUERTE: CUBA, FATHERLAND OR DEATH is a visceral look at the current state of Cuba through the eyes of its artists, activists, bloggers, writers, musicians and everyday people, who live amidst political unrest and economic inequality.

Docs_PatriaOMuerte-300x300Utilizing vibrant images and percussive music, the film includes illuminating interviews with a myriad of individuals, including: a prize-winning author who could not be published in Cuba until recently; an artist and political activist who was imprisoned for his passion for freedom; an architect who escaped oppression; and a number of everyday Cubans who express frustration over their lack of opportunity and decaying living conditions. What emerges is a portrait of a struggling people determined to be heard.

After decades of persecution and neglect, Cuba’s LGBT community finds itself in the midst of a new struggle — the fight for equality. The leader of this uprising is Mariela Castro, charismatic daughter of President Raúl Castro and a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, who uses her passion and pedigree to promote acceptance in the face of prejudice.

MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH: CUBA’S LGBT REVOLUTION follows Castro and her LGBT supporters as they spread their universal message of equality across the country. Directed by Jon Alpert (HBO’s Emmy-winning BAGHDAD ER), the documentary spotlights gay, lesbian and trans activists through revealing stories of pain, love, strength and perseverance, all told against a rapidly changing social and political backdrop.


Expectations: It is a simple fact that I know little of the real Cuba. What I know of it is its history from the U. S.’s perspective and what VICE has showed from time to time. But, the whole picture of real Cuba? No, I don’t know it and I am not all sure that even these documentaries will give it to me.  What I am sure of is that the documentaries will show almost the same story in two different ways. I gathered that fact from just watching the trailer from each film. PATRIA O MUERTE wants to give us a rough, raw taste of revolution and a fight for freedom and does so while slamming a hard, depressing existence in our face. Take it in here:

MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH, though it will surely affirm that inequality and injustice abound, seems to liven it all up with the flashy colors, and partying faces of the LGBTQ community. This trailer seems to suggest that the cause is making ground in the heavy machismo that is Cuba. It seems a Castro is a big part of another big revolution.


Gut Reaction: People are paying attention to Cuba again. These two films certainly give us a strong look at what the Communist island nation has been up to or, more so, what it has not been up to over the decades. It has almost come to a standstill. You can tell that by how many older model cars roam its streets. It is backward in a lot of ways and the citizenry is hurting for it. PATRIA O MUERTE packs the biggest punch. It focuses on the poverty and malaise of Cuba’s people the crumbling infrastructure, the slow wheels of justice and a hand wiping the tears of despair from the eyes while the other is still raised in defiant revolution. You shake your head in wonder of it all as you watch.

And you do really watch closely as you have to read subtitles unless you fluent in the rapid ramble the Cubans speak. In fact, if I cite a disconnect I had it was trying to take in quick imagery at times and still keep up with reading along. I found that I wanted to catch every word too, as the people interviewed had compelling stories to tell of their condition and their country. If I had to focus on one part, however, it was the first 5-8 minutes of the piece when we get this montage through the history of Cuba all set to the pounding music used also used in the trailer above. It was a great way to immerse into the world that would take up the next hour.  Docs_MarielaCastrosMarch-300x169

As for MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH what holds the most impact is the title character. She is the niece of the late Fidel Castro. She holds a seat in the Parliament of the country and she has banded together a subset of society and has championed for their rights. And though there are some serious testimonies in the film (one gay elder Luis holds the best story, but the story of “Pancho” is the funniest) most of it is upheld by the gay parades and social events that the gay community in noted for here and apparently there as well.

This documentary takes quite a different tone, in its 40 minutes, than the former film does. This one has a figurehead in Mariela Castro making a unified step in the right direction, where in PATRIA O MUERTE looks at the individual struggles. Mariela’s film also strikes a sense of hope for all of Cuba as it deals with equality for all where the other film does not say all will be well in Cuba just because President Obama acknowledged the country.  


In Conclusion: There will be plenty of stories out of Cuba to come. HBO has given us a look from two slightly different perspectives. While they don’t capture the whole story they do give us a real hard look at what life is like there and how far they need to come to be a part of the 21st century. Only time will tell.


Next: Monday, 12.05 is the debut of THE TRANS LIST focusing on the transgender society. It b3gins at 8:00pm.

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