The documentary “Embargo,” director Jeri Rice’s chronicle of Fidel Castro’s revolution and the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo, made its world premiere at the Tower Theater in Little Havana Tuesday night, with its executive producer Jorge M. Pérez in attendance.
“The [filmmakers] needed funding, and I thought it was very important,” the real estate developer and arts patron told the Miami Herald before the screening. “I liked that the movie told the story of the Cold War through the point of view of a woman who saw it very differently than I did.”
Rice, who hails from Portland, Oregon, started working on the movie after visiting Cuba for the first time in 2002 and meeting Fidel Castro. She spent the next 14 years researching the late Cuban president and his tumultuous relationship with American leaders. “Embargo” presents a more sympathetic portrait of Castro than Miami audiences are used to.
“A lot of my friends said ‘Well, [the movie] is a little bit to the left,’ ” Pérez said. “But I thought ‘No, that’s the way Middle America sees it.’ Jeri had always heard Castro was a threat and a monster, and then came to see him as a man. She saw the Cuban Revolution not in terms of good or bad but in historical terms.”
The movie, which was screened as part of the Miami Film Festival, combines new interviews with people such as Lucie Arnaz, Sergei Khrushchev, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Pérez to recount the story of Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, his subsequent relations with the U.S., his embrace of communist Russia and the repeated attempts by the CIA to topple his regime. The movie ends with President Barack Obama’s speech from Dec. 17, 2014, announcing that the U.S. and Cuba would work to normalize relations.
Pérez, who was born in Argentina to Cuban parents and lived on the island as a child, has been a vocal champion of Cuba’s artistic community. He has visited Cuba several times and was part of the business delegation that accompanied President Obama there in March 2016.
“I’m the most capitalist guy in the world, so I was very excited about the possibilities of Cuba opening up in a democratic way and new businesses coming in, and I’m very disappointed that nothing has changed,” he said. “After Obama, the U.S. has moved a little bit to the right in its position toward Cuba, which I think is wrong. We already won the Cold War. The easiest way for communists and dictatorships to fall is to have freedom of speech and opinion flood a country.
“Hopefully we can reach through to President Trump and rational men will talk about what it would mean to have a free Cuba join the rest of the continent,” he said. “But I’m worried that the Cuban government believes they might lose power if they open up to the rest of the world. So there has to be movement on both sides of the street.”
“Embargo” will screen one more time at the Miami Film Festival, at 4 p.m. March 12 at Regal South Beach.