"...EXCITING and ILLUMINATING WORK. I found it COMPLETELY ABSORBING from the start to finish. A TAPESTRY FOR HISTORY."
– Ralph Gleason, Rolling Stone
"A masterful portrait." – Gore Vidal
"Fidel is a 20th century icon and FIDEL! is the iconic story of this larger than life man. If you want to understand Fidel's Cuba and the American fixation with his undoing, don't miss Saul Landau's mesmerizing portrait."
– Julia E. Sweig, Director for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
In May 1968, just nine years after the Cuban Revolution, San Francisco-based television producer Saul Landau was invited to join Fidel Castro in Cuba for an unprecedented in depth interview. The film, Fidel!, was selected for a complete restoration by the National Film Preservation Foundation via a proposal from the University of California Riverside's (UCR) Department of Special Collections & Archives (SC & A), and will be available for the first time on DVD and VOD platforms on August 14, 2012.
Over the course of a week, Landau traveled through the island's mountainous terrain in a jeep with the charismatic world leader. Landau filmed Castro using a 16mm camera in a variety of settings, from military camps to a pickup baseball game to Castro's speech on the 15th anniversary of his attack on Fort Moncada which marked the beginning of the Revolution. Landau captured an unparalleled time into the relationship of the Cuban people with their popular leader, at a time when the country was being transformed internally while internationally vilified.
Fidel! was completed in 1969 using fascinating footage from Cuba's National Archive. When it aired on Public Broadcasting Stations across the nation (except for the Miami station), a bomb was thrown through window of New York City's WNET station during the broadcast. Although no one was injured, this was the first of several attempts to sabotage the film. In 1970, the film was scheduled for a theatrical premiere when the Fifth Avenue Cinema in New York was bombed. The subsequent premiere at the Haymarket Theatre in Los Angeles was also derailed by an arson fire that destroyed the building the day before the film was to debut. After these incidents, most theaters in most major cities throughout the United States displayed no interest in screening the film--it was only shown in a select few locales such as San Francisco and Berkeley.
FIDEL! provides a unique view of Cuba's controversial and most polarizing leader. In 1968, Castro took filmmaker and activist Saul Landau on a week-long jeep ride through the eastern mountains. There, he plays baseball with a group of peasants, visits his pre-school and trades jokes with a 98-year old man. Fidel also listens to the people's concerns about food distribution, bad roads and transportation. Landau captures Cuba's revolutionary chief early in the morning in his tent. The camera zooms in on his dirty and delicate fingernails holding his trademark cigar while he tells a story of Símon Bolivar and offers tactical advice to guerrilla warriors throughout the Third World.
The film contains rare and fascinating archive footage of the Bay of Pigs invasion and scenes of Che Guevara alongside interviews with political prisoners. Spectacular photography and editing with hot Cuban music provide the cinematic aesthetics that give this film beautiful form to accompany its exciting content.
FIDEL! will shortly be available on VOD platforms such as ITunes and Amazon Instant. The High Definition restoration is most notable on those platforms.
The DVD includes two fascinating Bonus Features:
• Director's Commentary – Saul Landau recalls his experience when viewing the film again with LINK TV journalist Hannah Eaves in 2010.
• Cuba and Fidel – Filmed in 1974, this 23 minute film shows unique footage of Castro and the beauty of rural and urban Cuba shot by Richard Pearce and directed by Saul Landau from material filmed from a CBS production.
SRP: $19.95 | TRT: 95 minutes | 2012
UPC: 881394114227 |Catalog: CLS1142
Genre: Documentary/Latin America
In Spanish with English subtitles
FIDEL! Is available for Educational License, festivals, screenings or grassroots fundraisers. For details, download the pdf. Or view our educational and performance rights policies here:
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Saul Landau has produced over forty films. He has received numerous awards, including an Emmy with Jack Willis for "Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang", the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, the George Polk Award for Investigative Reporting, the First Amendment Award, and the Bernardo O'Higgins award from the Chilean government for his human rights work. He is a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a Professor Emeritus at California State University, Pomona.
Gore Vidal says, "Saul Landau is a man I love to steal ideas from"
SAUL'S CUBA DIARYSaul Landau's re-captured his experience in this Journal entry
Filming Fidel: A Cuban Diary, 1968
July 1, 2007 • By Saul Landau
Reflecting on an encounter four decades ago...
By late May 2007, Fidel Castro appeared to have recuperated from a difficult operation followed by a life-threatening infection. Instead of returning to public view in his ubiquitous uniform, he has transformed himself—at least temporarily—into a columnist for Granma, Cuba's daily newspaper. In his columns he addresses the dangers and irrationality of converting corn into ethanol, using food that could feed the world's starving and hungry and transforming it into gasoline for the wealthy while further contributing to global warming; Bush's dangerous and inhumane war policies; the idiocy of England's new nuclear submarine, and the insanity of designing new Cold War weapons—all in the age of impending catastrophic climate change.
The essayist Fidel exudes the same sense of astute practicality—a devastatingly cold grip on reality—combined with a seemingly inexhaustible optimism about the future, including the potential for creating one day the perfect human species, physically and morally. As I remember him in 1968, this political giant of our times had merged his Jesuitical education with texts from José Martí and the Cuban revolutionaries of the 1860s (don't forget Bolívar) and then Marx and Lenin, along with studies of agronomy and animal husbandry. This voracious reader and cosmopolitan intellect has also been the Machiavellian politician of the third world—getting the United States to import Cuba's enemies—and has emerged as the sole survivor of nearly fifty years of U.S. imperial wrath. The politician who has plotted the course of the Cuban revolution, from taking power to holding it, also has an opposite side. Don Quijote also lives inside Fidel Castro. This is reflected in Cuba's programs, bringing medical students from around the world to Cuba to become doctors at no cost and sending doctors to wherever Nature strikes the poor—Fidel offered them to the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but Bush naturally refused.
As I read his essays, in Granma, I think back almost forty years to the amazing jeep ride through the undeveloped mountain villages of eastern Cuba, during the filming of Fidel (1968), produced for public television. —Saul Landau
To read the entire journal entry, visit the Institute for Policy Studies site.
Saul is also a regular contributor to Progreso Weekly.
Fidel! was selected for a restoration grant by the University of California Riverside's (UCR) Department of Special Collections & Archives. UCR submitted a proposal that was awarded a grant from the National Film preservation Foundation and the only remaining 16mm print was fully restored by Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland in 2012.
Sections from that proposal follow:
Fidel Castro has remained an intriguing political figure since his rise to power more than fifty years ago, and the world's fascination with this charismatic leader continues. Just ten years after the Cuban Revolution, director Saul Landau was granted unprecedented access to Castro that was the basis for his landmark 1969 documentary film titled Fidel!. Landau was granted the type of access to Castro that many world leaders would never allow today as he was permitted to tour the countryside of Cuba with the leader and his entourage. The film shows Castro in a variety of personal and professional settings from playing baseball with town locals and reminiscing about his early education in his hometown of Birán to his speech in front of thousands during the 15th anniversary celebration of the attack on Fort Moncada that was dedicated to Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Fidel! offers viewers an unparalleled look into the relationship of the Cuban people with their popular leader at a time when hope and radicalism continued to dominate the political landscape of the country.
Unfortunately, very few audiences have had the opportunity to view Fidel! since its completion in 1969. The film's theatrical release met with extreme opposition and its premiere in New York was obstructed by anti-communist radicals. In 1970, the box office of the Fifth Avenue Cinema in New York was bombed on the film's opening night. The subsequent premiere at the Hayward Theatre in Los Angeles was also hampered as arson destroyed the building the day before Fidel! was to debut. After these incidents, theaters in most major cities throughout the United States displayed no interest in screening the film and Fidel! was only shown in a select few locales such as San Francisco and Berkeley. In the forty years since its initial release Fidel! has remained virtually inaccessible to viewers through media and public outlets. The goal of SC&A is to not only increase access to the film for researchers and the general public, but also to strengthen the already robust collection of Latin American holdings currently maintained by the UCR Libraries' Department of Special Collections & Archives.
A number of factors led to the selection of the Fidel! film reels for this grant. First and foremost, this type of access to and footage of Cuba and a young Fidel Castro has never been replicated. It provides viewers with an intimate look at one of the world's most captivating leaders in an isolated nation. Saul Landau candidly captured the daily lives of both Castro and the Cuban people. Castro is shown as he talks about the future of agriculture and transportation in Cuba, gives speeches of hope and determination at rallies, and speaks about his own development and upbringing on the island. The Cuban people, for their part, are filmed voicing their concerns on topics such as healthcare; speaking on their hopes for educational advancement; and embracing their country's ideals of hard work and equitable treatment for all. The connection between Castro and his people that is relayed through Fidel! make it a truly valuable and unique look into the social climate of Cuba a decade after the renowned leader's reign. Concerns for the preservation of the film also contributed to our selection, as the film has started to show signs of dangerous deterioration after four decades. The pigments have degraded causing color loss as evidenced in the reddish tone that is present throughout the film. By digitizing the film in a modern format, there will be an option to strengthen the faded pigment colors using digital color enhancement while maintaining the red tone at its appropriate level. Additionally, our collection includes many supplementary materials that add to the film's research value, including still images of Cuba and Fidel Castro that Landau took on his trip to the country as well as manuscript material documenting aspects of the film's production.
Uniqueness of the Department of Special Collections & Archives film copy
The source for the preservation work proposed for Fidel! will be the original 16mm Color Composite Sound Prints. A number of repositories have been contacted, with assistance from the film preservationist at the Academy Film Archive, to confirm that our copy represents the “best surviving material” for this title and that the proposed work does not duplicate any previous preservation efforts. The following repositories were contacted: Academy Film Archive, Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, Pacific Film Archive, UCLA Film & Television Archive, Library of Congress, Harvard Film Archive, Museum of Modern Art, and George Eastman House. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (WCFTR) is the only repository of those listed above that has any film material regarding Fidel!. WCFTR's holdings include several boxes of film and sound reels containing segments of the film including the “mag out of optical reel 2, shots 14-19” from the final edited version. These materials are currently being processed and the Assistant Archivist stated that their collection does not contain a complete print of the film's final edited version.
The director of Fidel!, Saul Landau, was also contacted and he stated that to his knowledge UCR has the only surviving complete print of the final edited version of Fidel!.
Additionally, an online search of the WorldCat database reveals that there are only 85 publicly accessible copies of this title on VHS and DVD available in libraries.
Cineaste Magazine reviews "Fidel" Review
In 1968, nine years into the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro granted author/filmmaker/activist Saul Landau the rare opportunity to accompany him on a weeklong jeep tour of the remote countryside. The documentarian's resulting feature offers an engaging personal profile of the eternally cigar-wielding, militarily attired comandante-en-jefe discoursing on diverse topics ranging from the down-to-earth-the insemination of cattle-to the political and philosophical, such as underdevelopment as a psychological problem, or the need to create a "New Man" different from the capitalist species. Castro's multiple encounters with el pueblo reveal a charismatic leader who draws young and old to him while he nevertheless listens closely to the numerous socioeconomic complaints raised, such as the dreary necessity of queuing up in long lines to receive, perhaps, one's allotted food rations.
Telling vignettes appear, as when the perspiring but determined, middle-aged, and corpulent leader peels off his shirt to better his chances of ever hitting the baseball hurled at him by a powerful sidearm pitcher in a pickup game. Landau moves things along with snappy Cuban popular music, while abundant U.S. and Cuban newsreel and archival documentary material provide historical and sociopolitical contextualization that identifies not only factors that swept the revolution and Castro to power but also the roots of the long-lasting and virulent American-Cuban enmity.
The director's commentary on the disc offers a chance to catch up on one expert's opinions on changes to the Cuban revolutionary scene in the last forty-plus years. (A Cinema Libre Studio DVD release, www.cinemalibrestudio.com)-Dennis West. Cineaste Magazine