The Miami Herald
Sun, Feb. 05, 2006

'Viva Cuba' is a tale of humanity, not politics

After struggling to film Viva Cuba, Cuban director Juan Carlos Cremata is basking in the glow of international recognition, including an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Associated Press

HAVANA - Cuban film director Juan Carlos Cremata's new movie is about a young girl who runs away from home because her mother plans to leave Fidel Castro's Cuba and she doesn't want to go.

But Viva Cuba isn't a political film -- it's a human one.

''It's not that the girl wants to stay in Cuba because of the revolution,'' Cremata told the Associated Press in a recent interview. She wants to stay, he said, because Cuba ``is where her friends are, where her school is, and above all, where her beloved grandmother is buried.''

Depoliticizing the subject of Cuban exiles is about as easy as taking the fruit out of an apple pie, but judging from the international reaction, Cremata has succeeded in moving beyond nationalism to reach a universal audience.


The film has swept awards in countries as politically and culturally varied as Guatemala, Germany, Taiwan and France, including the Grand Prix Ecrans Juniors from a panel of child judges at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

But the film failed to grab a nomination for a foreign-language Academy Award in the most anti-Castro country of all -- the United States.

Cremata loves his country, but does not consider himself a communist. He took great care to avoid all political references in the film.

It is never made clear what country the girl, who appears to be about 12, is supposed to move to. Her mother, separated from her father, simply spends much of her time on the phone with ''a foreigner'' complaining about everyday problems on the island. When young Malu overhears her making plans to leave, she runs away with her best friend, Jorge, heading to the remote eastern tip of Cuba, where her father works at a lighthouse.

The movie chronicles the pair's adventures as they flee authorities across the island, from fancy beach resorts to provincial towns to the rural mountains. They sing, they fight, they get lost, they make up. They finally arrive at the lighthouse, but once there they realize they have nowhere else to run.

Cuban migration is in the director's face daily: He lives near the American mission in Havana and sees his countrymen lining up every morning hoping to get U.S. visas.

But the issue is a global one for Cremata, who has lived in cities across the world, including New York for a year on a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
''The predicament of whether to leave or not to leave is not an exclusively Cuban problem,'' he said. ``It exists all over the world.''


Cremata, 44, chose his own country, returning to Cuba after his 1996 stint in the United States.

''It was this year, living in the center of New York, with lots of money and everything, that I realized all I wanted was to return to Cuba and make Cuban films,'' he said.

The director's first full-length film was Nada, or Nothing, a 2001 comedy that also revolves around the issue of emigration. The movie is the first in a trilogy, but Cremata is still looking for funding for the next two installations: Nadie, (Nobody) and Nunca, (Never).