Elián Gonzalez today.
PHOTO BY ROSS MCDONNELL
By Frances Scanlon
It’s all over but the resounding applause for “Elián” at its world Premiere documentary at the recently concluded Sweet 16 year of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Directed by Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell, “Elián” ploughs well beyond the AP Pulitzer Prize-winning silhouette photo of Elian – seized within the seismic grip of Donato Dalrymple – a fisherman who discovered Elian floating alone in an inner-tube offshore near Fort Lauderdale just before dawn on November 25, 1999, Thanksgiving Day
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That infamous image – the “shot” that was heard around the world – represents the culmination of Elián’s expedition from being adrift at sea – bereft of his mother, Elizabeth, who was kidnapped forever by a storm – to a pre-dawn Easter Eve, April 22, 2000, raid by agents of the Border Patrol’s special BORTAC unit on the home of his Miami relatives.
Within four hours thereafter Elian would be reunited with his father at Andrews Air Force Base. On June 28, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denying his relatives standing to apply for asylum on Elián ‘s behalf. On that very same day, Elián Gonzalez returned to Cuba accompanied by his family.
Those are the salient facts of Elián’s touch-down on American shores until his return to Cuba. The genius of “Elián” the documentary is that it illuminates the flesh and bones of all the key players in this very high-stakes international custody dispute.
“I did earn a little place in the hearts of the Cuban people,” Elián Gonzalez said recently.
Ironically, Castro himself would die 17 years to the day, Nov. 25, that the boy was rescued off Florida’s coast, also on a Thanksgiving weekend,
And in each instance both the discovery of the child and the death of the dictator would be heralded with joy, relief and wild abandon, as much on the Isle of Cuba as in Little Cuba, Miami, Florida.
What is ultimately so amazing about this documentary is its portrayal of Elian himself as unremarkable, notwithstanding the fact that he is Elian Gonzalez – a 6-year-old who transcended age, circumstance and personal tragedy on the world stage. Yet Elián is not depicted as one who walks on water.
“Elián ” producer Trevor Birney said: “It’s clear that Elián is a respected figurehead for the next generation of Cubans. What the future holds for him is largely dependent on the changes in Cuba and in particular the relationship between the USA and Cuba. Elián is an articulate spokesperson for his generation – and they clearly want to see further reconciliation with the USA and all the opportunities that will bring. But, for the moment, he’s just like any other 23-year-old around the world: He’s proud to have graduated from college and excited to start his first job at a factory in his home town. He’s also looking forward to marrying his fiancee and setting up home together.”
The so-called Cuban Thaw, a new chapter of Cuba-U.S. relations that commenced on December 17, 2014, ended the 54 years of bare-buckle hostility, although there were intimations of an easing of tensions much earlier.
On Oct. 24, 1963, Ben Bradlee of Newsweek arranged for an Algerian journalist, Jean Daniel Bensaid, to meet with President John F. Kennedy,
Bensaid would then visit with and interview Fidel Castro in Cuba on Nov. 19, 1963, while also delivering to the Cuban leader the following sentiment that Kennedy had expressed to him: “I can assure you that I have understood the Cubans. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries.”
Three days later, President Kennedy was assassinated. “Elián ” is a most fitting tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the occasion of his centennial anniversary year. As President Kennedy once observed: “Creativity is the hardest work there is.”
The recognition accorded the creativity exemplified in “Elian” is further evidenced by the acquisition of its U.S. theatrical, digital and video rights by Gravitas Ventures.