EFE News Service
January 25, 2003

"Balseros" brings Cubans' odyssey to life at Sundance

  Park City, Utah, Jan 25 (EFE).- The vicissitudes of a group of Cuban refugees trapped between two worlds has captured the attention of the Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary "Balseros" (Rafters) is in the running for top awards at this Mecca of independent cinema.

  Directed by Carlos Bosch and Josep M. Domenech, the Spanish production covers seven years in the lives of seven of the 40,000 Cubans who sailed from Havana in 1994 in search of a better life in the United States.

  "Normally, it would never have occurred to me to make this documentary, because at some point you have to say 'enough' to a topic, and I thought there was nothing more to tell," Bosch, who has been a reporter in Spain with Catalan regional television for 17 years, told EFE.

  Bosch's regular job as a journalist was the starting point for the documentary. He covered events in Havana in August 1994, when Fidel Castro opened the island's
  borders for some 20 days.

  "We needed several examples to reflect the experiences of more than 40,000 rafters. In a fictional movie, they would have been known as the magnificent seven,"
  Bosch noted.

  At the beginning the team followed more characters, but some dropped out, and they were left with a story centered on seven, including the couple Misclaida
  Gonzalez and Juan Carlos Subiza, and Misclaida's sister Mericys, who was willing to turn to prostitution to earn the money to leave the country.

  Others include Oscar del Valle, the neighborhood hero, bent on getting out even if it means leaving his wife and daughter behind, and Guillermo Armas, whose wife and daughter are, in contrast, already waiting for him in the United States.

  Miriam Hernandez, a mother who must accept separation from her daughter, and Rafael Cano, who dreams of "a car, a house and a good woman," complete the

  After completing the first TV production, he made another one that followed the same seven from Guantanamo, where they were held while waiting to leave, until they realized their American dream.

  Other stories were left in the inkwell, such as that of the octogenarian fisherman and his blind 18-year-old wife because, as Bosch said, "the more idiosyncratic the
  stories the less they would work."

  Even so, the dream of capturing such dramas in a film documentary did not come up until Mericys contacted the team five years later to ask for their help because
  she had just "won" a U.S. visa in the annual lottery.

  Despite their unfamiliarity with the big screen, the neophyte film producers realized that here was a story "that deserved to be told, but the medium could no longer be television."

  With the support of Catalan TV3 and Bausan Films and the aid of David Trueba, Bosch and Domenech tackled the 150 hours of footage they had accumulated over the years and the task of finding their seven characters in order to craft what would now be the last act of their piece.

  "As we went along, we developed a script that worked, and I think we got it right," said Bosch, whose words proved true at the Paris, Alcala de Henares, Havana and, now, Sundance festivals.

  The documentary is also a candidate for Spain's Goya film awards and was selected for showing at the Miami Film Festival in February, while the United States' HBO cable network bought broadcast rights.

  "That we won in Havana when HBO had already bought the TV rights was proof that we succeeded in telling an honest story," he said.

  That is why he expresses little concern when asked about the controversy his documentary might spark in Miami, center of the Cuban exile community.

  "Just as here (in the United States), little is known about Cuba; in Cuba, little is known about Miami," he said.

  Copyright © 2003 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc. Source : Financial Times Information Limited.