Filmmaker Saul Landau on a mission: Unveiling the real terrorist

Saul Landau. Photo: Pamela Grcic

Award winning U.S. filmmaker and author Saul Landau is in town presenting his latest directorial effort, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?" at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

With decades of experience in Cuba, Landau’s new film reflects on the strained relationship between the U.S. and Cuba since the triumph the communists took over the island. It also examines U.S.-funded right wing Cuban exile terrorist groups formed to shake the Cuban government.

Experience with terrorism

“I first went to Cuba in 1960 in the spring, when I was a student," Landau said in an interview with the Vancouver Observer on Tuesday.  "I saw not only people of my age who were running ministries, but I also saw a lot violence and bombs exploding. And all those bombs were coming from Florida." 

In 1970, the New York’s Fifth Avenue Cinema announced it would run his film, “Fidel”, based on the Cuban leader. 

Shortly before the screening, bombs exploded in the theater, canceling the opening.

“We decided to open it in Los Angeles, and they burned the theatre down. It was the Cuban exiles who did this," he said. 

Landau had dinner with  Chilean ambassador Orlando Leteriel during Salvador Allende’s government the night before he was killed (along with U.S. assistant Ronni Moffit) in 1976 at Sheridan Circle in Washington by explosives. 

“We found out that it was again the right wing, killing people working for Pinochet,” he said.

These are few of his experiences with terrorism that compelled him to make a film on the subject.

He has received death threats himself as well.

U.S. foreign policy

The film focuses on U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba, and Landau notes that Cuba has been the victim.

“Terrorism has been the life motif of U.S. policy beginning in 1959. They allowed Cuban exiles to fly old planes over Cuba and drop bombs (…),so the CIA was running Cuban exiles in terrorist missions against Cuba for several years in the 60s. “

The film starts with a re-enactment of the detention of one of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández. The Cuban Five were sent by Castro’s government to infiltrate in these Miami-based terrorist groups to prevent and stop the violence in their country. But they were stopped by the FBI, who arrested them and put them in jail.

“So this was the context for violence, but the violence never stops. The Cuban exiles hired Salvadorians to do this infiltrating. They didn't go themselves.”

He said the problem persists because the Cuban exile in Miami has a particular justice system.

“Miami also has a unique judicial system, so the Cuban Five have the same chance of getting a fair trial in Miami that as a Jew would have gotten in Berlin in 1938,” he said.

He said that judges and juries are intimidated by Cuban radicals in Miami.

“If they were to deliver the wrong verdict, their houses would be burnt out (and) that would be the best thing that could happen to them. You can't have a fair trial in Miami.”

“You can't write about certain things, you can't speak in public about certain things (about Cuba) without risking your life,” Landau adds.

Challenging the status quo

Aside the funding, that is the challenge of many independent filmmakers, Landau and his team had trouble getting into jails in Cuba to interview “the terrorists” and their Cuban counterparts.

He reveals it was not easy to get an interview with double agent, Nicolás Salgado. 

 “After we filmed him, the Cubans wouldn't give us the tape for months.”

“The Cubans don’t like to open up, they do not appear on camera. It was unusual for them to allow us to do this.”

As in the case of one Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández, Landau was not even allowed to bring pen and paper, much less to bring cameras or audio recorders, he had to do the interview on the phone 400 miles away.

Landau says their obsession with Castro has prompted the Cuban exile to craft these outrageous crimes.

“It's not ideological except to the extent that Fidel Castro, has succeeded in my opinion. Fidel very cleverly obsesses them. They cannot think clearly. They think only how much they hate him how much they want to kill him --they are not normal!”

And why is the U.S. so opposed to Cuba?

“Castro set a very bad example. Look, we have Chávez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Lula, Daniel Ortega...It’s full of disobedience now, and they're all  Fidel's kids (or) his cousins who have taken over these countries!"

 “If the United States really wanted to change Cuba...(just) lift the embargo (and) Cuba is changed in a week,” Landau says as cleaning hands.

On the other hand, the director has not shown his film in Miami yet, but he has plans to. He jokingly said he expects a "big crowd" to attend the screening. 

"Somebody said they were going to buy me a bullet proof vest," he said. "But at my age, I personally don't give a shit.”

"Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up" screens on Tuesday at the Pacific Cinematheque.

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