Following President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. would begin normalizing relations, Cuba is on the cusp of cultural, social and economic change – an unprecedented development for a country that has experienced limited growth since its revolution in the 1950s.
From first-time director Olatz López Garmendia, “Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death” is a visceral look at the state of the country today through the eyes of its artists, activists, bloggers, writers, musicians and everyday people, who live amidst political unrest and economic inequality. Executive produced by director Julian Schnabel (“Basquiat”), this film debuts Monday, November 28 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
The debut of “Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death” will be followed at 9:00 p.m. by the debut of another documentary on the country, “Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution.”
Utilizing vibrant images and percussive music, the film includes illuminating interviews with a myriad of individuals, including: a prize-winning author who could not be published in Cuba until recently; an artist and political activist who was imprisoned for his passion for freedom; an architect who escaped oppression; and a number of everyday Cubans who express frustration over their lack of opportunity and decaying living conditions. What emerges is a portrait of a struggling people determined to be heard.
Once a manager at Cuba’s national radio station, Ivan says his “salary” of $18 a month barely provided enough to keep a roof over his head, and though his home was in disrepair, he couldn’t afford to fix it. Indeed, crumbling buildings are a fact of life. Mercedes, who lives with her husband and children, says her building, which is marked for demolition, is so dangerous that one day the floor collapsed under her eight-year-old son, Manuel. Her husband was there to catch him, but Manuel was badly injured and needed surgery.
Many do what they must to get by. Reggae singer and rapper Sandor has worked several jobs over the years. “There’s only money… and the harsh street,” he says, adding, “Cubans are now in a state in which they don’t believe in anything, but are hoping for everything…People are in limbo.”
Valery, a trans woman who turned to the sex trade to make ends meet, explains, “I had no choice.” Valery eventually left prostitution, but sees little future for herself in Cuba. “If things were to change tomorrow, I would leave the day after,” she adds.
Those who leave often feel pulled back to their native land. Living in exile is “a traumatic process,” says writer Antonio Jose Ponte, who now resides in Madrid and sees Cuba’s insularity as both pleasure and punishment. Though currently living in Miami, architect Rafael Fornes focuses on housing back in Cuba, noting, “Doing nothing is intentionally leaving it in ruins.” He laments that Havana is essentially a shantytown.
In Cuba, “You live in a mausoleum in every sense of the word,” muses Havana-based writer Wendy Guerra, who has traveled and received prestigious awards abroad, but until recently had never been published at home. While isolation has made Cuba ripe for art and dissent, questioning the government comes with risks. Street artist and political activist Danilo Maldonado (aka El Sexto, or “the sixth one”) has been arrested several times for his graffiti.
In 2010, several Havana activists were arrested before the funeral of a dissident, including blogger and activist Yoani Sanchez; disturbing audio reveals her being taken by men with no badges or uniforms. Gorki Aguila, who leads a band called Porno para Ricardo, notes that he and his band-mates have been kidnapped for speaking their minds, and their rehearsal studio is under constant surveillance.
In Dec. 2014, President Obama announced that the U.S. would be normalizing relations, a dramatic change in policy that has brought an influx of American tourists while inspiring many Cubans to imagine a free and global future.
“The world moves at a different speed, and I want to be part of that speed,” says a young woman named Claudia.
After its premiere on HBO on November 28 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT), other HBO playdates: Nov. 30 (4:40 p.m.), and Dec. 1 (10:30 a.m.), 4 (9:45 a.m.), 13 (1:05 a.m.), 15 (2:00 p.m.), 18 (noon) and 21 (5:00 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Dec. 1 (8:30 p.m.), 22 (5:00 a.m.), 24 (10:05 a.m.) and 26 (midnight)
The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and affiliate portals.
No trailer at this time.
While you wait, check out the short film below from filmmaker Ezaram Vambe, titled “Cuban Color Temperature,” which he filmed in the cities of Havana and Trinidad, in Cuba. As the title suggests, it’s a picturesque portrait of casual everyday life in Cuba, captured on the filmmaker’s Canon 7D. There’s no driving narrative here, so just enjoy the calming nature of the images and sounds you see and hear, wherever you are. It’s very short and simple.