Reading Charles Lane’s important column in The Washington Post about a new indie film, Una Noche,(One Night), I promptly rented it “On Demand” on my cable system. It is also available as an iTunes download.
Filmmaker Lucy Mulloy is new to the business. This is her first film, and it is now available after premiering at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in 2012, as well as the Berlin Film Festival that same year. Unless you live in New York City where some theaters are showing it, you have to watch it at home.
What Mulloy has done is to reveal the truth about daily life in Communist Cuba, which few Western visitors to Cuba have little understanding of. Indeed, the very week that Mulloy’s film has been made available for viewing, The New York Times Travel section featured two different articles extolling tourism to Cuba, and in effect encouraging its readers to avail themselves of the opportunity to engage in well-managed Potemkin Village tours, in which representatives of Cuba’s tourism industry — controlled by Cuba’s state-security apparatus — guide the gullible Americans to show them how joyous and happy the people are, and how wonderful the regime is that gives its people such a good life. They come back extolling the virtues of the Cuban government, joining in calls to lift the embargo on Cuba, and reporting on how well off things are for the people.
The first Times article informs readers that “those eager to get to Cuba just have to pay, and agree to take part in a busy, highly organized tour with very little free time.” Sure, if you had time on your own, you might wander off and see the parts of Havana that Mulloy shows us, and see how people really live and learn what they really think. When I went there in the mid-1970s, I did just that, and ended up getting arrested and thrown into a local holding cell in a police station for six hours because I took a photo of a giant line in front of a nationalized Woolworth store that had just received a rare shipment of plastic shoes from Eastern Europe.
The second Times article notes that “nearly every major tour company is now jockeying for the hearts and wallets of American tourists.” Why not? The tours cost a great deal of money, the food is reportedly mediocre (perhaps better than when I was there, and it was close to inedible) and you are given little time for any R and R — continually shuttled to one orchestrated activity after another. As they put it, “you can’t simply show up and luxuriate at the beach.”