By JOHN PAIN | Associated Press
People have been trying to figure out Fidel Castro since he came to power in Cuba 46 years ago. The world’s longest-ruling head of government is reviled by political dissidents and American presidents and worshipped by revolutionaries like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Cuba’s president has been the subject of countless books and documentaries, and a Cuban-born filmmaker is the latest to try to recount his life.
PBS plans to debut Adriana Bosch’s “Fidel Castro’’ on “American Experience’’ on Monday, the history series’ first film on a foreign leader. Bosch, who has lived in the United States since 1970, has made films on American presidents including Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
But the writer, producer and director said Castro was the most polarizing figure she has taken on. And because she is a Cuban-American, she said, many people assume she has a negative view of Castro. Although she says her goal was to present a neutral picture of the communist leader, she also calls the film a “cautionary tale’’ of the dangers of placing the hopes of a nation in one man.
“I don’t think I need to defend myself. ... I also have 20 years’ experience as a documentarian,’’ she said Friday. “I think I’m pretty close to the truth.’‘
One critic said the documentary failed to capture Castro’s story and relied heavily on those with biased views of Castro as the lone, evil power in Cuba.
“To attribute to Castro alone _ just one man _ the power to have shaped the destiny of so many people is to elevate him to the level of the gods. He would be pleased,’’ Louis Perez, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of numerous books on Cuba, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Bosch interviewed Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez, relatives, childhood friends, former rebel leaders and defectors. It also features extensive archive footage of Castro, including a 1975 television interview with Barbara Walters.
Bosch said she and her crew were denied permission to travel to Cuba to get new interviews for the film. Jose Borges, an official with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, declined comment on the documentary and said he didn’t know about the filmmakers’ visa requests.
The documentary details Castro’s accomplishments, such as providing free education and health care, as well as difficulties, such as reviving the economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its main benefactor.
Castro took power after Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, who had led a military coup, fled Cuba Jan. 1, 1959. Shortly after, Castro declares that he doesn’t want money or power, “only to serve my country.’‘
“My obligation with the people, what I have to do now and in the future, is that what (is) good for my country,’’ he told reporters in English.
His complex relationship with the United States is shown changing over the years. Footage from 1959 shows Castro waving to enthusiastic crowds in New York, denying that he was a communist on NBC’s “Meet The Press’’ and meeting with Vice President Richard Nixon.
A year later, he defended nationalizing U.S. property in Cuba by saying he would not be loyal to the “large North American monopolies that exploited our country’s economy.’‘
“What were the alternatives for the revolutionary government? To betray our people?’‘
In 1975, Castro tells Walters he wants understanding and friendship with United States.
“I understand it is not easy because we belong to two different worlds. But we are neighbors and in one way or another we ought to live in peace _ United States and Cuba.’‘
Human rights activists and dissidents also describe the horrors of being in Cuban prisons, accused of subverting Castro’s revolution in favor of America. One prisoner being interviewed says he was denied a fair trial. One activist describes the prisons as “killing machines.’‘
Bosch realizes that because of Castro’s controversial nature, some may say her film left out important aspects.
“I think this is as definitive as you could possibly make it now. ... We’re going to have to wait until Castro dies’’ for a more complete view, she said.
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