Monday, February 27, 2006


Tonight I viewed a screening of the documentary film "Shootdown" at the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Cultural Center, downtown. The film is about the shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuban MIG fighters over international waters 10 years ago. It was written, produced and directed by Cristina Khuly, who is the niece of one of the four victims of the shootdown and incidentally a classmate of my wife's from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy.

With the exception of a few seats up front, the 1700 seat theater was full. What follows is my review of the film.

I've obviously seen and read a lot material about Cuba but this movie blew me away. There were several moments in the film when I had to consciously keep myself from crying. The whole thing is overwhelming, starting with the set-up about the rafters and how BTTR came to exist. I could feel my Cuban blood rising in my veins as I saw pictures of the people basically jumping in barely-floating scraps. There's one scene where they show a Coast Guard rescuer putting his hand in front of a rafter's mouth to detect a breath because it was unclear if the person was still alive.

The movie is mainly narrated by Khuly herself and she frames the story about what happened perfectly. The movie doesn't skirt any sensitive issues. The fact that BTTR planes had intruded on Cuban air space on previous occasions and that Jose Basulto's plane did so on the day of the shootdown is well documented in the film. But it's also clear that the response was not proportional to the intrusion and that it wasn't even carried out against "the right" plane.

Especially bone-chilling is the cockpit voice recordings of the MIG pilots rejoicing with the destruction of unarmed civilian aircraft along with their occupants. I've heard those recordings before, but heard in this context they are extremely powerful.

If I have one small complaint about the film, it's that it drags a little after the climactic re-enactment of the shootdown. The material covered afterwards is very important however and I don't see how the problem could be remedied.

Of course, because Ms. Khuly is trying to be fair in her documentary, not like the hatchet jobs of Michael Moore, she presents comments from various pundits giving different sides to the same story. One of the opinions that left me scratching my head was one that was offered by one of these commentators. He said that basically by not retaliating militarily, the United States was able to obtain support of the international community in condemning Cuba rather than having the U.S. come out looking like the bad guy again. And I remember thinking to myself "so what did that accomplish?" The answer is of course, nothing. 10 years later castro is still laughing his ass off. He got away with it completely. Even today some people talk about scrapping the Helms/Burton law that was our "retaliation" against Cuba. Do these people have short memories or is it that they just don't care that 4 civilians were killed? If Reagan had been in office, you know there would have been a swift and strong military retaliation. But then again, castro would not have been so eager to take such a cheap shot with Reagan in the Oval Office. He's no dummy, after all.

Another comment that caught my attention was made by General John J. Sheehan the Commander In Chief, US Atlantic Command. He basically said that American fighters could not have done anything to protect the BTTR planes because they would have had to have been armed and scrambled, a process which he claims would have taken "hours." After that I asked myself "why the hell we have an Air Force then?" The complete lack of a real air defense in our country during the "post cold war era" was well documented in the report by the 9/11 commission. I don't have much confidence that this has been improved.

This movie was cathartic. During the course of it, I experienced anger, sorrow, disbelief, and even laughter. In fact the entire audience laughed and it was at fidel castro's expense. The particular scene was one in which castro himself is denying, in an interview, that the shootdown incident was a premeditated attempt to divert the attention of the Cuban populace from the grave economic crisis facing the country and political upheaval it was creating. castro says "That in 37 years Cuba has never done anything to distract its people, to do so would be immoral." Almost everyone in the audience chuckled. That would be like Bill Clinton saying he was never attracted to a woman who wasn't his wife. castro was still speaking when my father let out with a yell: "Cobarde, Asesino!" Dad, I wish he could have heard you.

If there's somebody in the film I'd really like to get my hands on, beside castro himself, it's Ricardo Alarcon. Man I'd like to kick his ass into a bloody pulp. I only hope one day some Cuban patriots will get the chance.

I want to congratulate Ms. Khuly on making an excellent and thought-provoking film. I'd like to make special mention of the animation and graphics, without which the movie would not have been as effective in demonstrating what happened. This film must have cost a pretty penny. Working in the ad business I know that 30-second commercial can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce (up to millions) and those shoots are usually only 2 or 3 days long. Things like post production, and animation are extremely expensive. We owe whoever financed this project a debt of gratitude for helping get a big part of the Cuban story out there.

I highly recommend the film. I don't know when it will be showing again but I assume it will be soon. Keep an eye out for future postings about screenings.


tocororo_libre said...

algun dia pagaran por sus crimenes

ElGringo said...

The plight of Cuban rafters has continued since the murder of these four men. For mor insight to the plight of Cuban rafters read, Dying to Get Here: A Story of Coming to America. It is written by someone who apparantly flew these rescue missions.