HAVANA, Dec. 8th “The War on Cuba” documentary opens along Havana’s iconic Malecón, a long stretch of road winding along the coastline of the Cuban capital.
A yellow almendrón, the affectionate term for old cars in Cuba, carries the film’s narrator, Liz Oliva Fernández, down the coast. She is perched on the back seat, wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat, and ironically carrying a selfie stick. Fernández’s dialogue debunks the romanticized vision of an idyllic, old Havana that the media often perpetuates.
“People come to Havana looking for the real Cuba and this is what they do,” Fernández says in the first episode of the documentary. “But this is not my Cuba.”
“The War on Cuba” is a three-episode documentary telling the story of Cuban people and the impact of the 60-year U.S. blockade. It winds between interviews with Cubans and broader histories of U.S. propaganda, oil sanctions, and the campaign against the Cuban medical system, doctors and medical brigades.
Fernández alternates between Spanish and English in her narration and speaks to fellow Cubans in a casual, conversational tone that makes the film feel deeply personal and at once expansive.
She sits in a chair in front of a television and expresses frustration with the media’s one-dimensional focus on the U.S. sanctions; at a kitchen table, she asks her mother about her choice to leave Cuba and serve as a doctor in Venezuela when Fernández was 10 years old; she inquires about the availability of variety medicines at a pharmacy counter and is told each time that the drugs have run out.
The film presents compelling, digestible background information in the spirit of investigative, deeply-researched journalism. But its true draw is its cinematography and the thoughtful, humanizing attention given to the people Fernández speaks with, whose lives have been touched by a devastating blockade for decades.
“The War on Cuba” centers interviewees and Fernández as true experts on the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.
The documentary was filmed during the pandemic and released in October by Belly of the Beast, a collective made up of Cuban and U.S.-based journalists and activists that seeks to tell stories about Cuba from a grassroots, independent perspective.
The documentary is the collective’s first major project produced by Oliver Stone and Danny Glover an example of its commitment to shape its journalism around Cuban voices and provide the context in a media landscape heavily influenced by state interests.