I had the opportunity to view Comandante at the San Francisco Film Festival earlier this month. Directed by Oliver Stone, it is an amazing and incredibly intimate portrait of Fidel Castro that portrays him as a revolutionary, a dictator, and a beloved leader. Castro definitely let his guard down for this film and had a “whatever happens, happens” attitude regarding the filming. Although the rules for the shooting stated that Castro or Stone could call “cut” at any time, neither of them used this privilege throughout the filming.
It was very interesting to hear Castro’s views of the United States and his explanation of what was happening behind the scenes during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro portrays Cuba as a country that was caught between two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. A country that has always done things its own way–Castro’s way.
Castro also expresses sadness towards the American people because of the actions of its government, citing the secret creation of the CIA. He refers to the years that the world knew of the Agency’s existence while the American people were in the dark about both the Agency and its practices in the global stage. Castro is also critical of the United States’ quick invocation of “National Security” and its use of these “sacred words” to instill its will onto the rest of the world and declare wars or conflict.
Stone does a great job of mixing documentary news footage from the past five decades with the present to make his own commentary about the dictator. He even shows Castro and his revolutionary forces executing opposing factions near a mass grave. However, it is clear that this is a biopic view of Castro’s life that focuses more on his successes than his mistakes.
Comandante is a controversial film that was banned from the New York Tribeca Film Festival earlier this month. Additionally, HBO had chosen not to air the film because of Cuba’s execution of ferry hijackers in April. HBO felt that current events now made the film “incomplete.”
In response to HBO’s choice not to air the film, Oliver Stone has recently flown back to Havana to obtain additional interview footage from Castro regarding the most recent incidents. These new scenes will now be incorporated into the documentary and the new film will air on HBO at a later date. Having already seen the film, it will be interesting to hear Castro’s thoughts on the recent executions and the brutal repression of Cuba’s dissidents by his regime.
Ultimately, you will have to watch the documentary and come up with your own ideas about Castro, the complex dictator. Cuba, a country that refuses to play by the rules of the United States and now abandoned by the fall of Mother Russia, is now in a very precarious position. It will be very interesting to see what the future brings for Castro, his country, his heirs, and his people.