Joe Cardona was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after his Cuban parents settled there in the 1960s. At age 4 he arrived on the sunny shores of Miami, which by South Florida standards makes him a native.
Reared on episodic television and album-oriented rock radio, Cardona always fancied himself a writer/director so he began working on indie projects fresh out of college — creatively and independently funding his work.
He has directed 16 feature-length documentaries, mostly dealing with issues of cultural identity and history. (Nou Bouke, Haiti's Past, Present and Future; Café con Leche; The Flight of Pedro Pan; Jose Marti: Legacy of Freedom; Havana: Portrait of Yesteryear; Honey Girl; White Elephant; Celia the Queen). Twelve of the documentaries have aired on PBS and throughout Europe and Latin America.
Cardona has also directed, produced and written two feature films (Water, Mud and Factories and Bro). Both received prestigious awards, such as the Flickapalooza Film Festival's "Best Screenplay" (2001) for Bro.
The documentary Celia the Queen (about the life of Cuban salsa singer Celia Cruz) premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and attained national and international recognition and acclaim. His work as co-producer of the PBS music series Latin Music USA was featured domestically on the PBS network and internationally via the BBC.
In 1997, Cardona, along with partners Mario de Varona and Michelle Zubizarreta, founded Kids in Exile Films, an independent film company, which operated for 13 years. Seeking new creative and business horizons, Cardona then founded and still operates Royal Palm Films.
In 2011, Cardona garnered three regional Emmy nominations and won the award for the documentary on Haiti, Nou Bouke. The film, which was co-produced with The Miami Herald, was part of a newspaper series selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Cardona holds a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Florida International University.
The first memories I have of Celia Cruz is the sound of her guttural voice echoing through my grandparents’ radio. Yo Soy de Cuba la Voz — I am the voice of Cuba — she bellowed. It was the station ID for WQBA radio, the focal point of all things Cuban for exiles in the early to mid 1970s.
I had the unfortunate experience of having to visit an elderly relative in the emergency room this week. My stepmother fainted at home and was rushed to the hospital mid-morning. I immediately began receiving phone calls from my father updating me on her condition. As we spoke during the day it became apparent that her condition, fortunately, was stable and improving, yet my bilingual, very communicative father had no idea when she would be released, if at all. The situation at the hospital sounded chaotic, so after picking my daughter up from school, I trekked north to get a hold on the situation.
Czech author Milan Kundera once wrote, “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals.”
For years I watched co-workers and employees —mostly women — hurriedly packing their belongings just before closing time at work, and I wondered why that was? Were they all that miserable at work? Did they all share a phobia for Miami rush-hour traffic?