Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The kind of docu to send conservatives into a rage, Fidel uses scrupulously chosen newsreel footage and
a surprisingly well-rounded set of interviews to present a picture of the Cuban dictator removed from the
U.S. government's 40-year-old smear machine. Family members, fellow revolutionaries, famous writers and a fair
number of ex-CIA spies and State Department diplomats weigh in with points of view not heard much in our
anti-Castro media din. The docu doesn't pretend to 'show both sides', but neither does it need to work
hard to present its case for Castro as the lone holdout survivor of the Cold War on the socialist side. Along
the way, there's plenty of good-quality, uncut footage of Fidel to ponder.
Fidel Castro's life and career - as a young lawyer, political aspirant, revolutionary and lifelong
dictator of Cuba - are covered with key-source photos and footage, and key witnesses. The stress is definitely
pro-Fidel, accenting the improvements his rule brought to Cuba, and, by example, other countries.
Before the screaming starts, it needs to be said that Fidel doesn't bring up many of the constant charges
leveled at him by American critics and detractors - not the fact that some of his original revolutionary comrades
were later pushed aside or imprisoned, or that he's periodically imprisoned dissidents. Cuba is a dictatorship by
one man, and opposed to the American values of free discourse and free trade. As seen from our side of Key West,
Fidel Castro is a despotic ruler.
What Fidel does communicate, without making an argument out of it, is that everything Castro is, is a reaction
to his experience with the United States. He took back his nation from sellout gangsters and Fulgencio
Battista, but really
reclaimed from the U.S.A. - its criminals, business predators, and CIA creeps. He's the only Latin American leader
to successfully counter American domination, an economic oppression (yep) that has kept most of the rest of the Western
hemisphere from properly developing on its own.
As any plain reading of the facts will bear out, the problems between Cuba and the US stemmed from a basic incompatibility
of goals - American interests wanted to retain their control and ownership of the country, and Castro wanted Cuba
for Cubans. After a brief, bright beginning, Castro showed his intention to nationalize foreign holdings, and the
die was set. Blockaded by America, Fidel turned to the Soviet Union (where else could he go?) and the US spent 40
years trying to overthrow the island nation. Invasions, assassination attempts, 1
and crippling economic restraints have inadvertently made a dictator look like the savior of the Western Hemisphere.
Enough politics ... Fidel is not anti-Castro, which by definition will make it instant trash for vast numbers
of Americans. It openly admires the man for his accomplishments and demonstrable dedication to his people. The Cuban
exile community in Florida is marginalized in the docu's view of the Elián Gonzalez episode. Instead we're
given the viewpoints of visitors and supporters of Castro, especially noted writers like Gabriel Garcia Márquez
and Alice Walker. Also on view showing visible support, or at least positive interest in Castro are Muhammed Ali,
Harry Belafonte, Ted Turner, Jack Lemmon, and other notables. Professor Angela Davis underscores the roots of black
American approval of Castro.
The most compelling endorsement of the dictator comes from Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Castro supported anti-Apartheid
forces in Africa by sending troops to help Angola ward off invasion; and in the aftermath, the Apartheid government
fell and Mandela was freed. It sounds like something the US should have been doing instead of paying lip-service to
the problem while supporting the white supremacist government.
Too gentle to be propaganda, Fidel refuses to get into a shouting match and simply presents the Castro side of
the argument. If the opposite side used something more than lies, Cold War rhetoric and hypocritical shouting about
Freedom and Civil Rights in their documentaries, I'd like to see their docus too. In other words, Fidel is
this viewer, because much of it is consistent with the facts as known to me personally. I certainly don't expect
that others should agree: but real Freedom doesn't mean having to present only the dominant opinion.
First Run's DVD of Fidel is a nicely-mounted video presentation. The encoding is fine, and only the occasional
inferior source makes a few shots unsteady or blurry - the usual docu limitations. Audio is very good, and because
it's subtitled (non-removable) we get to hear Castro and other speakers in their native Spanish rather than
overdubbed with translated dialogue. 2
A few docu excerpts, trims, really, are offered in an outtakes menu choice. Other special extras are mostly promos for
other First Run docu shows.
Fidel is an excellent non-critical look at Cuba's popular dictator - dictator is still the only word that fits
him, liberator though he may be -
and a good indicator of how the World outside the US feels about him and his lifelong resistance against America.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Outtake pieces of Fidel speeches, appearances
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 5, 2003
1. Can you imagine the gall of last week's big
news story about Stalin trying to kill John Wayne in the late 40s and early 50s? One author starts a rumor, and now
it's hard fact in print. I surely believe that if anybody even thought agents were after Wayne in Hollywood,
our government would have surely let us know about it, in capital letters.
2. We did catch one mis-translated moment, in an extra, not in the film itself. Castro
is asked what his biggest mistake was. The subtitles say it was not predicting the downfall of the Soviet system (thus
showing Castro admitting an error like a gentleman). His actual Spanish words imply that the collapse of the USSR was
un-divinable - thus, he made no error. Is this bias indicative of more distortions in the show?
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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