FOND MEMORIES OF CUBA
Jim Mitsos is an 86 year old millionaire socialist in Australia (Greek migrant) who has not lost ‘the faith’, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. He still believes that “the dream of a socialist paradise” lives on in Cuba where Jim has given away substantial portions of his fortune over the years. He commissions filmmaker David Bradbury to return to Cuba to make a film and return with evidence that the dream is still alive, or so Jim thinks, for most Cubans. As the filmmaker uncovers the reality of dashed socialist dreams laid bare by 40 years of imported grey drabness of Soviet style socialism, he discovers a new generation’s faith in the bright bauble of capitalism which has ‘invaded’ the country as the desperate ‘fix’ that the now isolated Cuban leadership must reluctantly embrace. It is set against a backdrop of Cuban music and undiscovered musicians that the filmmaker encounters on his journey.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Cuba is the graveyard of the failed communist revolution, as David Bradbury discovers on this unusual filmmaking journey. Not that the content is that unusual – though he does garb some popwerful and haunting images – but the circumstances. A Greek millionaire who looks like a Greek village farmer, entrusts Bradbury with production money to be his eyes in old Cuba – with something of a romantic mission, to confirm the health of the revolution. Jim must have been too busy making millions to notice that the revolution has long ago failed. It failed all those millions around the world who put their faith in it, and those other millions who lost their lives to it. Pointlessly. Horribly. The most apt shot in this film is Bradbury self consciously holding up the famous novel, Animal Farm. The poor are still poor, the powerless citizens are still powerless citizens and they get beaten up by the socialist dictator’s thugs. It used to be the previous dictator’s thugs. By the time we’re a quarter of the way through this short feature length doco, we realise the title is totally ironic. It’s a film that shows the other side of the Buena Vista Social Club but like that earlier film, it also relies on the Cuban music and the wonderful Cuban people themselves for its drama and its pathos.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
'To die for the country is to live'...so go the words of a national anthem endorsed by enough Cubans to ensure the survival of Fidel Castro's 43-year presidency. It's also the kind of rallying cry that inspired socialist romantics like 86 year-old Greek-Australian Jim Mitsos to donate half a million dollars to a children's hospital in Havana. The framing story finds David Bradbury visiting Cuba at the request (and with the financial support) of this octagenarian who's too old to make the trip himself. Bradbury narrates in the style of 'postcards home' to a man whose optimistic visions of socialism at work fall painfully short of the reality captured by the younger man's camera. 40 years into a faltering revolution, Fond Memories of Cuba is far from the front-line immediacy of Bradbury's justly famous documentaries Chile: Hasta Cuando? and Nicaragua: No Pasaran. Those chronicles ofright wing interference in human rights were energised by optimistic ideas of a better life under socialism. What Bradbury discovers in Cuba is a severely compromised version of that Utopian ideal. Even when the screen is filled with exuberant music there's a melancholy in Bradbury's voice-over as he surveys the evidence of political theory clashing with economic and political reality. While he takes an even-handed approach, acknowledging Castro's vision has only succeeded (and been allowed to succeed) in the most basic sense, it is his comments such as 'familiarity breeds fatigue' - over images of party faithful falling asleep at another two-hour Castro rally - that make the strongest impression. You could argue that Bradbury doesn't go far enough in exposing internal corruption and his intellectual rigour is lacking but it's important to keep the title of this film and the track record of its maker in mind - admittedly a contentious proposition for newcomers to Bradbury's work. Fond Memories of Cuba isn't always the most riveting of essays but it is a fascinating portrait of a country that somehow survives and a filmmaker who has discovered the dirt behind the daydreams.
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DAVID BRADBURY INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
FOND MEMORIES OF CUBA (PG)
PRODUCER: David Bradbury
DIRECTOR: David Bradbury
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Bradbury
EDITOR: Tim Litchfield
MUSIC: Cuban musicians
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Ronin Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 5, 2002 in Sydney; July 18 in Brisbane; July 25 in Melbourne & Canberra.