For me, there are few areas of history as fascinating as the Cuban Revolution and the decades of political and human struggle found. Love him or loathe him, Castro is an interesting figure, someone who took full control of a country, polarizing those around him. In Cuba and the Cameraman, we get a look into his media relations, playing up to the man pointing a camera, and his nose, into the hot topic issues of the country he led. Jon Alpert, a man who has travelled back and forth throughout Cuba for the past five decades hopes to tell the story of this country, and the cultural similarities and differences we may not be aware of. A fascination for the Revolution and its impact on those living there, there is a clear passion for the project. His early style of expose journalism is applied to a life spent in Cuba, delving deep and documenting the rise and fall of Fidel Castro.
From the early days of solving the housing crisis and healthcare, director Jon Alpert shows a happenstance encounter with Castro that shaped the fifty years of dedicated work. Castro’s ties with the Soviet Union and the early loans he utilised to fund his revolutionary dream, Alpert goes in with positive intentions. He shows a country that seemingly thrives on the newfound state support, and his hopes of bringing these ideals to his hometown of New York are misplaced but admirable. He seems in awe of such rapid social change, his time spent interviewing locals is well-placed, especially as he tracks down those he interviews in the past. The optimistic vision of the 70s eventually devolves into the reality seen in the 90s and beyond.
As much a dissection and discussion of Cuba as it is of the director himself, his influences and desire to be a documentary filmmaker. Early footage shows this well, and we witness the mass exodus of Cubans wanting to leave the country, the riots and the lack of liberty and freedom in Cuba’s early years. The Mariel Boatlift is documented in brief, but harsh detail. There are some efforts here to paint Castro in a personal, unseen light, some may argue it tries to show him as less of a monster and figurehead of Western worries, instead showing a lighter, friendly individual. Inevitably there are moments that show the softer side to him, but the impact his actions and inactions had on the country he controlled are shown in nail-biting, horrific detail.
With such great swathes of footage, it’s amazing to get any sort of look into Cuban culture and the impact of their socialist regime. The highs and lows are documented, the inevitable balance between struggle and thriving people, over time it turns into a human journey through the streets of the average Cuban. The closest Castro may ever get to having history absolve him can be found here, within the deep confines of how the people truly viewed his leadership. Generations are compared, contrasting viewpoints given, and ultimately, Alpert gives a strong impression of a culturally rich, divided country.