90 Miles

PBS Premiere: July 29, 2003Check the broadcast schedule »

Ask the Filmmaker

Marcial from New York writes: You and I shared similar dramatic experiences when we left Cuba for the United States, however, there is a big difference between you and me, which is that I was an adult and made my own decision. I just saw your wonderful documentary film and, needless to say, it touched me a great deal. Now that you felt the impact of going back to Cuba as an adult, do you regret in any way of having been brought to the U.S.?

Juan Carlos Zaldívar: Thanks for your response. I'm glad that you feel the film speaks to your experience. I no longer question our decision to come to the United States, though I still would love to find a way to keep a connection to Cuba, at least through my work, which shares so much of the culture and the Cuban experience.As you know, current policy makes this very difficult, almost impossible. I was speaking with a psychologist once who pointed out to me that most people in
their 30s and 40s, who came to the U.S. from Cuba by their own choice, usually experience a strong sense of returning to the island two years after they arrive in the US. I'm sure this changes with each individual and how easy his or her environment is allowing them to assimilate the culture shock. There are people who have simply gone back to live in Cuba because they did not adapt to the new
culture. I have made my life here in the United States and I'm devoted to contributing to my community wherever that is, presently in Miami Beach and New York. Thank you for your question.

Francisco from Texas writes: I'm not Cuban, but I have always been fascinated by the history, culture, struggle, and impact of both Cuba and its immigrants. It is always painful to speak with Cuban-Americans because it's so hard to get past the anger, the bitterness, the single-mindedness and ideological platitudes about Fidel. What I absolutely LOVED about your documentary is how even-handed it is, and how loving and conciliatory it is. Your film may do more for moderating right-wing fervor than anything I've ever seen. My question: How did you get to that place/point that allowed you to step outside/away from the anger, the bitterness, the ideological dogma, etc., and to focus on the tragedy of what "the revolution" and Fidel have wrought on the common folks that were at the heart of "the revolution?" Thank you for your absolutely brilliant work.

Zaldívar: Thank you for your compliment. It gives me great pleasure to hear what you say because I have devoted a great deal of time to getting rid of the anger, which is always so hard to do. As you might have read in my Filmmaker Interview on the POV site, I learned that the immigration process affects us much in the same way a death in the family would. We go through all four stages of bereavement: denial, anger, displacement and finally acceptance. It is a long process and we need to be patient with ourselves, but it is possible to come to an acceptance of a traumatic event in our lives and feel that we have conquered it and that we understand the impact it has had in our lives and then let it go. We will always have a sense of loss but self-awareness will allow us to recognize that we are reacting when we do. It was very difficult to do in the film and continues to be. I get better at it everyday. Well, this is sounding like a self-help book, but there you go 🙂

Felisa from New Jersey asks: What was the film you presented at the Latin America Festival in Havana?

Zaldívar: I think that you are referring to the short film I showed in 1999 at the Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano in Havana. That film is called "Palingenesis", which is what happens to the soul when you die. It comes from the Greek PALIN ("again") and GENESIS ("birth"); a rebirth, if you will.

Sebastian from Ohio writes: My fiancee and I really enjoyed your film. I congratulate you for having the courage and insight to address the emotional costs that were exacted by our country's diaspora. Just the other day, a colleague at work assumed that because I'm a Cuban immigrant, my family and I came to the USA to a life of leisure and instant success. Your film is one of the first I've seen to counter that stereotype, and to candidly address the complex and often conflicting and mixed feelings Cuban emigres experience after arriving here. I was touched by your father's honesty. Please thank him on my behalf. Where may I access information on submitting a work to the documentary film festival you are coordinating? Do you accept video format documentaries?

Zaldívar: Thank you for your observation. I think it is important to point out that success is relative and yes, many immigrants leave their country looking for a better life, usually financially. Others, of course, leave because its a matter of life and death and there are many, many other reasons. Regardless of the

reason, it is a difficult choice they have made and expectations play a big part in the process. Our festival, The Florida Room, is in its second year, so we are operating on invitation only, as we do not have the personnel or logistical means to handle submissions. All that said, we do curate other programs throughout the year and we invite you to send us your film. We do accept video format: VHS for preview and BETA SP for projection if we find a venue for the film. Please inquire to me directly at TheFloridaRoom[at]aol.com. Thank you for your interest.

Ulises from Pennsylvania asks: First, let me congratulate you on a highly educational and emotional film. As someone with a remarkably similar background to yours, except that I am a bit older and came to the US in 1972, I am curious about how your sexual orientation was received back in Cuba?

Zaldívar: During my first trip, there was so much other emotional content in my head that the issue never came up. While I'm out, I keep my private life, well, private. I included this in the film because I thought it fell into a great context for showing how people can still love and support each other despite their differences. Everyone has seen the movie by now and luckily, I have not encountered any homophobia in Cuba.

Oliver from New Jersey writes: First of all let me congratulate you for the magnificent work you have done with this documentary. I'm Dominican, but being from the Caribbean as well, I identify with many of the poverty and limitations that we suffer with corrupt government(s). I'm a student in the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey -- my question is -- how are you affected, psychologically, by leaving Cuba? Do you dream about Cuba very often? And what are your thoughts on a daily basis even after so many years from leaving your land?

Zaldívar: Thank you. I remember that during the first few years in the United States, I would always dream that I was in Cuba. This was followed by a series of dreams where I would be in my house in Miami and open a door and look at Cuba outside. The language in my dreams changed, eventually, too, though I can't recall if it happened at once or over a period of time. I'd guess it was gradual. I don't think about Cuba everyday, but I am still deeply moved when I see images of it.

Several viewers asked: Will there be a screening of 90 Miles where I live? How can I find out more?

Zaldívar: For those of you would like to organize a screening of 90 Miles, I would suggest contacting a local University, Community College or Library. These institutions are always looking for materials that are of interest to their communities and would be able to purchase a copy of the film from our distributor.

You CAN organize your own screening. To get started, download the Discussion Guide from this website. You can also learn more by using our bibliography and videography, provided in the Resources section of this website as well. All of the community screenings listed here were started by individuals who saw the film and wanted to bring it to their communities.

A viewer asks: I'm curious about the "multimillion-dollar industry...whose main product is basically made to be ignored" that you mention in the Filmmaker Interview. If you wanted us to know, you probably would have revealed just what it is. Won't you tell us?

Zaldívar: I was talking about the Muzak industry (elevator music).

Nicole from Colorado asks: Due to the highly personal nature of the film, what did you do to consider the dignity of your subjects (yourself, your father, your family)? What kinds of permission did you ask for from him, how did he respond to you videotaping personal moments and what has his reaction been since the release of the film?

Zaldívar: Making a personal film was more difficult than I ever anticipated (having worked on personal films and having a best friend who made one as well. I thought I had all angles covered, but it was still a heavy load of responsibility. I remember using a clip of my aunt crying in Cuba in one of our daily promos and having someone call her "the crying lady" during a business meeting. My aunt never cries! I thought, what am I doing? I can't possibly tell everything about everyone. I was concerned about representations. My co-producer, Nicole Betancourt told me something that helped a lot. She said, think of it like taking a Polaroid of a specific moment in time. You can't put everything into the picture, just make the best picture that you can. Even after the film is finished, things will change, attitudes will change. I tried my best to make a film about the immigration experience and to not make a film about a specific historical moment, so that it may not be dated. I kept communication with my family members as the ideas for the film progressed and about what I was doing. I showed them the final cut before I locked the picture and I was lucky to have been able to show it to my aunt in Cuba, because she came to visit that year. They all felt that the need to show what it is like to live with this conflict was more important than how they looked. They gave me their support and I went ahead and started my work with the film. There has been great emotional gain and insight shared by my family during the making of the film and focusing on these issues, luckily for me, was also important to all of them. They are no longer involved in the post-life of the film and so many things have evolved... But we look back at it with love and hope that others will be inspired to do their own introspection and open dialogue with their families before it's too late. Thank you for asking.