dir. Estela Bravo

Opens Fri Feb 14

Clinton Street Theater

Most Americans have strong feelings about Fidel Castro. The U.S. government has certainly done a good job of trying to defame him, due to its mortal fear of all that threatens the corporate powers that be. And Fidel-- having led a willing Cuba to socialism, and assisted revolutionaries in many South American countries, not to mention playing a key part in the end of apartheid and the independence of Namibia--scares the shit out of our government. The CIA has tried to assassinate him over NINE times.

After watching Fidel, Estela Bravo's mostly glowing portrait of the man, I am convinced that Fidel Castro is the last living patron saint of the people. Yes, I know that he currently suppresses free speech and dissidence, which is hypocritical, and with which I wholeheartedly disagree. But as a figurehead, he's airtight, and right now this country's people's movement desperately needs a leader with the charisma, passion, and courage of Castro. (Medea Benjamin, where you at?) Thus, it's easy to watch this story of his brave and noble life with yearning and admiration, as interviewees like Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Harry Belafonte gush over Fidel affectionately. As Walker puts it, the man's only flaw is that he's a bad dancer.

In straight documentary style, Fidel chronicles Castro's life from his beginnings in rural Cuba, through his school days (though curiously skims over his attempt at major league baseball). Through footage and photos, it illustrates how he led the overthrow of Batista (whose regime cost the lives of over 20,000 citizens) with his good friend Che Guevara. His speeches are impassioned--the man's manifesto is called History Will Absolve Me, for god's sakes--and whether fighting on the frontlines against the 1961 American invasion (because he nationalized American oil companies stationed in Cuba), cutting sugarcane himself to help boost the economy, or making friends with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Kruschev, Fidel has lived an extraordinary life. By the end of the film, I was bawling. Where are the leaders like this in America?