Cuban Film Furor and Other News

It’s official: as of June 22, I will be leaving my post as the Digital Resources Librarian at the Academy to morph into the Technical Service Librarian at the Metropolitan College of New York.  The move will involve more money, better hours (or more convenient hours, since my schedule must jibe with their vendors’, who are all on the west coast giving me some leeway in navigating the morning rush), and very different challenges.  But there really was a significant amount of money involved.   

Anyway, I’ve made a list of my current responsibilities that I now have to train the other two librarians in my department to do–this morning we’re producing the Grey Literature Report, which means teaching a non-techie some tricks involving Microsoft Access.  But while I’m waiting for my coworker to get settled in, I thought I’d post this tidbit from the MEDLIB-L listserv:

Screening of Cuban Film Sets Off Firestorm
by: Kristin Boyd, Staff Writer (Princeton Packet, Princeton new Jersey)
Library Responds to Accusations that Human Rights Film Festival Distorts Conditions in Cuba

The Princeton Public Library has inadvertently set off a firestorm of criticism involving Cuba, health care and human rights.

According to some critics, two of the 15 films shown during the
library’s annual Human Rights Film Festival last weekend are
"propaganda" and do not accurately reflect life in Cuba.

"I think it’s outrageous to have a film festival at a public library
that leaves out all the realities of Cuba, especially when you have
thousands of witnesses to the human rights violations," said Maria C.
Werlau, executive director of Cuba Archive, an organization that
collects information about the country.

Ms. Werlau and Princeton Township resident Fausta Wertz raised issue
with the documentaries "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak
Oil" and "Salud! What Puts Cuba on the Map in the Quest for Global
Health Care."

Ms. Wertz attended the festival; Ms. Werlau, a Summit resident, did not.

"To have a film that is clear propaganda and that is far removed from
the reality of the average Cuban seemed pretty outrageous," Ms. Werlau
said. "And to have a film festival that doesn’t address the blatant and
egregious human rights violations in Cuba seems really unbalanced."

Leslie Burger, library director, said the film festival committee had
no intentions to glorify Cuba. "Salud!" and "The Power of Community"
were chosen because of the issues they addressed, not where they were

"They felt it was unbalanced because there were two films that were
holding Cuba up as a model, and that really wasn’t it," Ms. Burger
said. "It wasn’t a Cuban film festival. It was a human rights festival.
The conversations we were trying to have were about education and
energy and health care and immigration and disaster relief."

You might want to compare what’s in this article to the recent hullaballo that appeared over the screening of Michael Moore’s new film "Sicko," about the Cuban health care system. Having no stake in this argument one way or the other I think I can safely say this is a political argument, not one of true substance. (If you want to see what Moore said about the situation, click here.)

I’m the first to admit that I don’t get what makes people nuts about Cuba.  That’s not entirely fair–if I’d been chased out of my home by a hostile government (as many Cubans surely were), I’d be pissed off, too. There can be no arguing about that.  (As it is, my mother’s mother’s family barely made it out of the Ukraine in 1926.)  There’s also no way to get around the fact that Cuba is–compared to what most people in the U.S. are used to–a bit of a hell-hole in terms of quality of life.  Clearly, the place is not heaven on earth, or any kind of paradise, Communist or otherwise.  But it’s better than some places–Zimbabwe, Darfur and Iraq are three contenders that come to mind, if perhaps not in that order.

At any rate, the island has managed to do a few things that nobody else has: figure out what it takes to live without enormous infusions of cash from the USSR, for one. Threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons (also from the USSR) for another. Provide a basic level of public health care to every citizen, for a third.  Mostly, Castro has been very successful in one major respect: he has told the U.S. to sit on it over and over and over again and gotten away with it.

I think that is what people are most pissed about–on the political level anyway.  On an economic level,  there are nearly two million self-exiled Cubans living in  Miami angry as hell that they had to leave their homes at gunpoint and waiting for the day when Castro dies or his government collapses when they may one day return (with U.S. military backing, no doubt) to reclaim their rightful places at the helm of their homeland.  Well, maybe that will happen one day. They may want to consider that the folks who stayed behind might have something to say about that.

The fact that many of the folks who condemn the idea of lifting the ban on visiting or doing business with Cuba are the same folks who don’t think it a bad thing to take trillions of dollars from the Chinese and Vietnamese to help float what’s left of our economy.  Both commie countries, both favored trading partners of the U.S. of A.  Sounds like a double standard to me.  I won’t even mention the fact that everyone else in the western hemisphere is perfectly happy to do business with Cuba if we won’t.

Anyway, my lousy two cents is to say "big deal."  Back to the Grey Lit Report.

About Jon Frater

A gaming industry stalwart dating back to the 1980s, Jonathan Frater is the co-author of roleplaying game books Robotech: Return of the Masters, and Robotech Adventures: Lancer's Rockers, both for Palladium Books. Jonathan also wrote a column on writing and game design called The Tome in Gateways magazine. He's currently a librarian at Metropolitan College of New York. Article 9, the first in his ambitious Blockade Trilogy, is Jonathan's first full-length novel.

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