Documentary filmmaker Estela Bravo took The Paley Center stage Wednesday night, to discuss her films and her most famous subject, Fidel Castro. Pat Mitchell, our favorite interviewer, introduced Estela by remarking that her films offer “a rare and a compassionate look at not only Cuba, and all of the transitions that it’s gone through, but all the social issues in many other places around the world.”
Estela wants audiences to have the experience of walking in another’s shoes. She shared that she began making films because she “wanted people in Cuba to know about things that were dear to me.” This has led her to many different subjects, including Paul Robeson, the children of Argentina, and Cuba and Fidel Castro.
She is most well-known for her 2001 film Fidel, and she spoke movingly throughout the evening of her desire to help heal the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. When an audience member asked what keeps her going in the face of challenges, Estela responded: “We do films because we have an opportunity to see things that other people cannot see, and we feel things, and if we can give those feelings to other people through the film, or teach people… or inform people, to see what we see, to have felt what we felt, and maybe do something about it… then that makes us feel good, that we’ve done something, accomplished something.”
Estela had some great anecdotes. Here are a few of our favorites — and for more check out our TEDxWomen Twitter feed, live from the event:
- Castro never speaks English in Cuba. But when Estela interviewed his translator, she said he’s always correcting her English.
- Castro can talk! During Estela’s interview with him, she asked 12 questions and he talked 6.5 hours! Estela then told of an American man who asked her, after watching Fidel speak for six hours: “Doesn’t Fidel ever have to go to the bathroom?” Estela relayed the question to Fidel, and he responded: ”That’s just to show people that I have no prostate problem.”
- Estela spoke to the “incredible” relationship between Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela. When Fidel visited Mandela in South Africa, the two men would walk holding each other by the arm, speaking in English without a translator. Estela was with Fidel when he entered Mandela’s cell. Fidel “couldn’t believe that Mandela had lived in that cell” — and lay down on the floor, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Mandela.
Estela also spoke of the heartbreaking stories that result from the past and present U.S./Cuban relationship. Her new film Operation Peter Pan looks at the 14,000 Cuban children separated from their families during 1960-1962, and the lasting trauma experienced by these children and their families. Unfortunately, the distance between the two countries remains much greater than the 45 minute flight from Miami to Havana. Even now, Estela told us: “What you see at the airport in Cuba, in Havana, you don’t see in any other part of the world. The families coming together.” But the good news is there has been some recent change: Individual tourism to Cuba is still restricted for Americans, but family members are now allowed to return (it used to be only one visit every three years). “I’ll be so happy,” said Estela, “the day that there are normal relations between the United States and Cuba.” And audience burst into loud applause of agreement.
Estela had much more to say, and her films go far beyond Cuba to Argentina and other parts of the world. So we’re delighted that New York University plans to digitize her archive, making her footage available for all. A clip we watched on Wednesday night showed Gabriel García Márquez saying, “With love, with hate, with mixed feelings, Fidel will be remembered for a long time.” Estela and her films add an invaluable voice to that discussion.
We didn’t have a Cuba-based TEDxWoman organizer, but perhaps this year someone will step up to the plate!