Since there’s been so much talk about the documentary film Shoot Down (which dropped into Orlando theaters last week and hopefully will be held over) and what it does contain and what it does not contain, I thought I’d reach out to Cristina Khuly, the filmmaker, to ask her a few questions.
Why did you make this film?
I made this film for two reasons. To set the record straight about the shootdown [in 1996 of two U.S. civilian planes by Cuban military], Castro and the Cuban-American community, all of which are woefully misunderstood in this country and the world. Second to honor the four men who gave their lives to help others.
What are the main differences between this film and the one you screened in February 2006?
The theatrical release film is easier for the average person to understand. It is shorter and less issue dense. I reduced the number of characters in the film and gave more of a background to why there are Cuban exiles and what does that mean to those in our community.
Some people are disturbed by the inclusion of Saul Landau in the film. He has a long history of being an apologist for Castro and the communist system in Cuba. What do you think he adds to the film?
Documentaries should have different points of view otherwise they are propaganda. By including different points of view, some of which are painful to my family, and me, I allow the viewer to make up their minds. Also, having Mr. Landau say that there is no political freedom in Cuba, no free press, etc., carries a lot more weight than if a Cuban American says the same thing.
Why do you think some people in the exile community have reacted negatively to the film?
There are people in our community that have been so hardened by the misinformation that is prevalent in the media about Cuba, that they want a pure voice to “yell” back and say this or that is not true. The reaction is understandable, but it only reinforces the stereotype that Cuban American’s are all right-wing fanatics. If you show all the positions, the truth is really easy to spot for most people. It is just hard to see people that you so disagree with given any platform and some cannot take that.
Is there one overriding take-away you want people to get from the film?
Yes. There was a brutal crackdown of political dissidents on island; Concillio Cubano was crushed. The [Brothers to the Rescue] planes were in international waters and the men were murdered AND the whole world agreed to the legal facts of this statement. Consistently we get the following reaction when audiences see the film. The average American says, “I didn’t know that. Where was I when this happened?” They see that these men were murdered and the legal system proved that. They see, for the first time in many cases, the dark side of the revolution in Cuba.
What are the single most misunderstood aspects of the actual shootdown?
The single most misunderstood aspect is that the planes shot down were in international air space and were never in Cuban air space.
What the single, most misunderstood aspect of the film?
The role of a documentary. A documentary should put forward the fact of a subject and let people decide for themselves.
The film seems to end on the idea that Cuba and the United States were moving toward some sort of negotiated agreement that would end decades of isolation of Cuba, and the shootdown derailed that course and instead drove the parties apart even further. Is that your personal view? Do you think a negotiated settlement was possible in 1996? If so, then who is really responsible for the continuing hostility?
Cuba felt pressure in 1996. They had lost economic sponsorship from the Soviet Union; the economy was in free fall. There was a growing dissident movement on Island and for the first time, the European Union was willing to recognize these human rights activists. There was a U.S. administration that was open to a dialog. The stage was set for change.
The result was that Cuba shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft in violation of international law. Certainly they knew that this would end any hope of better relations with the U.S.
You must have two parties willing to make a deal. We did not have that in Cuba. That being said, I feel that if we could have a better understanding of the realities of life in Cuba by the average person in this country, in Latin America, in Europe, then with concrete steps on Cuba’s side, change could come. But so far, that negotiating partner is not at the table and that coupled with the hurtful misunderstandings consistently portrayed in mass media, we have the status quo.
Jose Basulto was critical of the first version of Shoot Down. Have you talked with him about his objections? Has he seen the new version of the film? What if any feedback has he had?
We do not know if he has seen the film that is in theaters. When the average person sees the film, they see the great work that BTTR did as an organization. They recognize the complex nature of advocacy. After the change in immigration policy, BTTR was an organization that was more political; it was challenging what was going on in Cuba.
Some see the film and see Basulto as a hero, some see him as reckless, some as dangerously provocative. But, that is what being an activist is all about and we respect that in this country and the world when it comes to human rights, environment and other cases. When an activist is involved in something that causes the loss of life, there will always be questions of judgment. The film allows people to make their judgment on this and other issues.
(Gomez is a regular contributor to www.babalublog.com, where this story first appeared)firstname.lastname@example.org