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Filming Fidel Castro


Cuba: filming Fidel Castro
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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The way I got access to Cuba, knowing not any more about Cuba than most people, I wanted to find out things for myself but in that process be filming at the same time. So when I got to Havana Airport, I got off the plane, jumped into a cab, turned to the cab driver and said- Where's Fidel? And he said, Oh, he's addressing a women's group in an auditorium. I said- Take me there. So he takes me there. I walk into the auditorium, get as close as I can to Fidel which is to say not so close, maybe 20 or 30 feet away. But having a camera that could take an extremely telephoto lens that would bring me very close to him which I wanted to- where I wanted to be. I put the lens on the camera and as I was carrying away this camera up to my shoulder, as he was talking quite deliberately and forcefully, the way he was known to address people, he happened to look in my direction and we connected with our eyes in such a way that I knew that it was okay to continue. I got the camera up on my shoulder and I could see through this telephoto lens that I'd be so close that I'd be actually just a little bit within his face. And as he spoke I was able to move from one part of his face to another and to capture every moment with exactly where I should be, more on his eyes or his mouth or a silhouette, or whatever. And it became, I don't know, probably a minute long in the film. And I don't know that I could ever do any better than that; except that I remember a number of scenes with him that really were quite strong. A scene where we had spent the whole day travelling around, just Fidel and myself and the driver, and we had reached the point where I think it may have been three o'clock in the morning and Fidel was getting kind of hungry. He said let's get something- he said let's get something to eat. So we go to a restaurant. And he's not content to just sit in a regular part of the restaurant. He will go to the back room and he talks to the cook and orders exactly the food he wants. Then he notices that there's a telephone on the wall. He goes over to the telephone, takes it off- takes the receiver off, and walks through the door next to it. But I can hear him talking, but more importantly, not only am I recording his conversation, which I don't understand but which I think must be kind of interesting, I'm filming the cord that goes from the receiver to the phone on the- installation on the wall. And it's responding almost like a psycho-physiological kind of study of his emotions because when he gets kind of worked up the cable shows some tension, and then when there's silence it relaxes and so forth. So, that way I'm getting kind of an internal visit into his mind. And- but I'm just praying that there'll be enough film, as I'm continuing to shoot, so that when he comes out I'll get him also. And, sure enough, there was enough film and I got that wonderful shot in its entirety. On another occasion, I only wish I could have brought my camera into the scene but it wasn't appropriate. It was an event that was taking place at the Chinese Embassy at their reception. He invited me during the day and I- of course I accepted the invitation. During the course of that evening I was standing next to him, shoulder to shoulder, and a messenger comes rushing in, hands him a telegram, he opens the telegram and asks me, having read it, he says shall I translate it for you. I said well, please do.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Rebekah Maysles Tamara Tracz Sara Maysles

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tags: Cuba, Havana Airport, Fidel Castro

Duration: 5 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008