An oral history of the Mariel boatlift, Voices From Mariel is a somewhat artless compendium of talking-head interviews, historical news footage and familiar scenes of an exile’s emotional return to his homeland. Director Jim Carleton has assembled his film in the simplest, most obvious way possible, and the repetitive structure and lack of dramatic thrust render the documentary better suited for PBS than a movie theater.
Still, Voices From Mariel will be intriguing enough to Miami audiences, including anyone who lived in South Florida during the immigration of 125,000 Cuban citizens in 1980 to our area — and especially viewers who either survived the dangerous journey or know someone who did.
Although Voices From Mariel doesn’t technically contain any new information about the mass exodus, the movie does contribute some amazing anecdotes to the seemingly endless number of personal stories spawned by the boatlift. The film introduces us to former refugees now assimilated into American culture — such as Leonardo, who was 15 years old when Fidel Castro’s revolution seized control of the island, was sent to China to train as a military pilot and was shipped off to prison immediately upon his return to Cuba, when he proclaimed he would not participate in a Communist regime.
Carlos was 16 and planning to become either a doctor or musician when he was drafted against his will into military service. Patsy was a schoolgirl fully indoctrinated into political propaganda even while her father was jailed for 17 years for being anti-Castro. And Osvaldo lived through the execution of his father and the electroshock treatments that rendered his mother a near-vegetable, all because of their lack of support for the revolution.
Through the chorus of voices the movie assembles, we feel first-hand the tragedy, frustration and dissatisfaction that led so many people to risk their lives and those of their loved ones — borne not necessarily from a desire to live in America, but from a desperate need to escape a tyrannical, oppressive regime.
Voices From Mariel interweaves those stories with footage of Dr. Jose Garcia, who left Cuba through Mariel when he was 13, as he returns to visit the island and looks up relatives and friends. Aside from providing panoramic views of present-day Cuba, his scenes add little to the movie. Depictions of tearful reunions between exiled Cubans and those they left behind are, by now, overly familiar.
There is also a bizarre and unnecessary introduction by Steven Bauer, who talks about the heat he endured for playing a criminal Marielito in 1983’s Scarface. All that stuff comes off as window dressing:The amazing, sometimes startling recollections of the contributors to Voices From Mariel are the film’s strongest draw.
With: Dr. Jose Garcia, Elizabeth Caballero, Miguel Ordoqui.
Director: Jim Carleton.
Producers: Rob Tritton, Jesse Larson.
A NFocus release. Running time: 80 minutes. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. No offensive material. Plays Thursday Sept. 8-Sunday Sept. 11 in Miami-Dade only: O Cinema; also playing at the Palace 18 starting Friday Sept. 9.