90 Miles

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

Filmmaker Interview

POV: What is your motivation as a filmmaker? Why did you choose documentary in this case?

Juan Carlos Zaldívar: As a filmmaker, in general the projects that interest me are stories that can take the audience to a place they have never been before in a way that is non-threatening but memorable. I come from a fiction background, which I guess is not surprising looking at the events of my life. Having grown up with a lot of rhetoric and propaganda, as a filmmaker I shied away from documentaries. They frightened me mostly because they can appear to be the absolute truth, when, in fact, they are only one filmmakers' point of view. This sentiment is changing with the development of invaluable youth literacy programs across the U.S. but still, as a filmmaker, it still seemed a huge responsibility to take on. All that said, I found that within the fear of taking on such responsibility also lied the challenge of conquering the powerful film language of a genre, of coming to a peaceful understanding and use of it. After much thought on the matter, the only possibility for me seemed to make a first-person documentary. I found freedom in the personal documentary because of its complete subjectivity. It didn't have to be anything more than my point of view. To this day, though, I feel that in its complete subjectivity, the personal documentary still provides the viewer with the greatest possibility for objectivity. If we were able to see more material about different people's experiences of the world around us, then we would have more room to form our own opinions and could reach out and see the world through different eyes.

POV: What generally inspires your interest?

Zaldívar: There always has to be some personal affinity to the subject that I'm working on. I must be able to relate to it on some visceral level. Making a film takes a long time and it becomes so much a part of your life, that the only way to be committed to a project, for me, is to have a personal investment in it, a learning curve, if you will.

POV: What inspired you to make 90 Miles?

Zaldívar: When I started shooting what was to become "90 Miles," I was not really making a film yet. I was using the camera as a tool for allowing myself to ask questions and begin conversations that I hadn't been able to instigate with my family. As a filmmaker I wasn't interested in making a film about events that had already happened. Our story was fourteen years old when I started to shoot. It wasn't until four years of shooting and delving deeper into the consequences of our immigration, that I began to recognize the seeds of a film within all the footage that I had gathered through the years. It was at this point that I bean to consider what it was that I could contribute by making a film about our story.

POV: What were your goals in making 90 Miles? And what would you like to see happen with it?

Zaldívar: Mostly, I hope that viewers are inspired to talk with their families and find some closure in whatever way is feasible in their lives. Dramatic and even traumatic events happen in all of our lives and we often feel defeated and ask "why us?" without an answer. What is not so easy to remember is that we always retain the power to work on healing ourselves emotionally, so that when we go out in the world and fight for our causes, we do it in a humane way and not solely reacting from a place of pain. I would hope that people recognize the importance of becoming a survivor and to focus on the positive accomplishments that we have been able to achieve during those tough situations, rather than dwelling on the pain and discomfort created by them.

POV: What was the most surprising thing to you in making 90 Miles?

Zaldívar: People always told me that it would be impossible to relate our story across the historical, economic and political divide between the United States and Cuba. It has been a dream come true for me that my fellows Cuban Americans, as well as my fellow Cubans, have all identified with the film so intensely. I hope that our educational efforts with the film continue to create a sanctuary where families can reach out for closure across the political divide and that other immigrant groups can use the film to start dialogues relevant to their specific situations.

POV: What are you currently working on or what would you like to be working on?

Zaldívar: Though I would love to continue making documentaries, honestly I will not work on another project unless I have the funding in place. The only way I would take on a journey like this again is if I find a subject that I can have as much personal investment in. I am working on three fiction screenplays, two of which are near completion and one of which went through the Sundance Writers Lab back in 1998. All of these projects have been put on hold until I finished 90 Miles. I also have an idea about a documentary that explores a multimillion-dollar industry that is hardly spoken of in the U.S., whose main product is basically made to be ignored and its parallels to the psychology behind American consumer culture.

POV: What are your favorite websites?