An Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature, BALSEROS is the heartrending yet triumphant account of seven Cuban refugees--and their families--who risked their lives to venture towards America's shores on homemade... more » rafts. The Village Voice raves that BALSEROS is an "engrossing documentary" with an "extraordinary sense of recording stories as they unfold!" While Presidents Clinton and Fidel Castro argued over the closing of Cuba's coast in the chaotic summer of 1994, nearly 50,000 "balseros" (a slang term for Cuban rafters) set out towards Florida, navigating the shark-infested waters on vessels made of wood, nails, and tar. The television reporting team of Carles Bosch and Josep M. Domènech began filming this remarkable story over those landmark 15 days. Then, as most of the rafters were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard, Bosch and Domènech continued to follow their lively cast of characters, some of whom were detained for more than a year at the Guantanamo naval base before finally being allowed onto American soil.« less
""Balseros" is movie of deep commitment executed by a team of heavily talented reporters and film professionals. The work effort covers a period of almost eight years, starting with the so-called "Balseros" crisis of 1994, when - in shades of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 - a policy shift by Fidel's government sends thousands of industrious Cubans streaming towards the shores of Florida.
The access the film team has to the island is unprecedented. You see the rafts being crafted and carried through the streets. When protagonist Guillermo Armas rides to the shore with this raft, he's cordoned by a wave of joyous bicyclists. What an amazing scene. In the meantime, the camera captures the seedy and rundown nature of present-day Havana.
Where "Balseros" stands apart is in carrying the film through to 2001, when we see what has become of the seven protagonists. You have to give immense credit to co-directors and writers Carles Bosch & Josep Domènech for the effort and skill in putting together this tale.
And, in a film with standout moments, here's mine: the team takes to the waters to document the journeys. At times, it encounters hauntingly empty rafts. The voice over gently tells you about the implications of an empty raft. All you have to do is juxtapose the flimsiness of some of these vessels vs. the raging currents in the straits and it's not difficult to imagine how these journeys came to a ghostly end.
Good complements to "Balseros" are "Finding Mañana" Mirta Ojito's outstanding 2005 memoir of the the Mariel Boatlift, Reinaldo Arenas' "Before Night Falls" (acclaimed author Arenas also came over in Mariel) and "Azucar Amarga," another great film with outstanding live footage (spliced into a compelling fictional story).
The movie follows seven specific protagonists. I found it hard to distinguish the threads at times, but Spanish producer Bausan Films has an outstanding press package on its web site and it contains a little cheat sheet of the seven, which I'm pasting in here because I think it'll really help your watching of the film:
MÉRICYS GONZALEZ HER JOURNEY AUGUST 1994 Builds a raft in Havana SEPTEMBER 1994 She sets off to sea. The raft is wrecked and she returns to Cuba FIVE YEARS LATER 2001 She obtains a legal visa and goes to Albuquerque, New Mexico to join her sister
OSCAR DEL VALLE HIS JOURNEY AUGUST 1994 Builds a raft in Havana SEPTEMBER 1994 Goes to sea and in U.S. waters is picked up and sent to the naval base at Guantanamo OCTOBER/DECEMBER 1995 Accepted in the U.S.A. he is sent to the Bronx FIVE YEARS LATER 2001 He has moved to York (Pennsylvania)
RAFAEL CANO HIS JOURNEY AUGUST 1994 Builds a raft and is thrown out of it SEPTEMBER 1994 In a "new" raft he sets out to sea and is detained in U.S. waters. He is taken to Guantanamo OCTOBER/DECEMBER 1995 Accepted into the U.S. he is sent to Miami JUNE 1996 He goes to Nebraska FIVE YEARS LATER 2001 The TV program broadcast nationally from Miami, Gran Impacto, sets out to find him
MÍRIAM HERNÁNDEZ HER JOURNEY AUGUST 1994 Builds a raft in Batabanó (in southern Cuba) SEPTEMBER 1994 She sets out to sea and is detained in U.S. waters and sent to the naval base in Guantanamo OCTOBER/DECEMBER 1995 Accepted in the U.S. she is sent to Miami FIVE YEARS LATER 2001 She is still waiting for her daughter, who is now eight years old, and who Miriam still has not been able to bring from Cuba
GUILLERMO ARMAS HIS JOURNEY AUGUST 1994 Builds a raft in Havana SEPTEMBER 1994 Sets out to sea and is detained in U.S. waters and sent to the naval base at Guantanamo MAY 1995 Accepted in the U.S. he is sent to Miami FIVE YEARS LATER 2001 He lives with his wife and daughter in Miami
JUAN CARLOS AND MISCLAIDA THEIR JOURNEYS AUGUST 1994 They build a raft in Havana SEPTEMBER 1994 They set out to sea and are detained in U.S. waters and sent to the naval base at Guantanamo OCTOBER/DECEMBER 1995 Accepted in the U.S. they are sent to Granby, Connecticut FIVE YEARS LATER 2001 They have separated. He lives in Granby. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico."
It is the exeption, not the rule, bad example
Manuel Vazquez | 05/18/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The documentary is one of the few that Fidel Castro will allow to show on the communist Cuban television. It shows the negative side of the balseros immigrants. Completely pessimist and intentional depressing and some times it make fun about Cubans. No a good example. The director picked a very poor town were everybody is black and unlettered. The other ninety percent of the rafter or Balseros, not showed on this documentary of course, are mostly white, blue collar worker, professionals, and artists. I see then all the time. Why this documentary doesn't show to the world that Cuban is the minority more represented on the highest levels of the united stated government. Balseros that came here to work hard, learn the language, make money without selling drugs. It is the type of material that makes happy those that use to ware Che Gevara tee-shirt. I am sorry about my English, I am just a Balsero that came here eight years ago and now I am American citizen, own a hause, have my own insurance business and most at all, I am free and proud to be a cuban balsero."
One of the best documentaries on migration
P. GUPTA | Anchorage, KY United States | 06/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie documents the lives of half a dozen Cubans as they struggle to escape their wretched lives to reach the land of dreams. Seen in a braoder context, I could immediately relate to the hopes and aspirations of people in various corners of the third world as they seek to make a home in the West. Most interesting was to note how fragile human relationships are - majority of these 6 Cubans who finally make it to America find loving and living with people against all promises made to loved ones when departing. Since this documentary tracks the lives of these people across several years, it provides a rich historical context to measure the reality against the dreams that these immigrants had when departing for America. Thankfully, the movie stays away from any political overtones (as in Castro-bashing, or America/ CIA bashing)."
N. J. Martin Quintana | Manchester - England | 09/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"An excellent account of how cubans escaped communist Cuba in 1994 building rafts and sailing across to their dream of America. It follows the lives for 5 people who made the crossing. The film follows their struggle on arriving in America and looks at their lives 6 years on. This is a True Story which is still happening today. The film is in Spanish but there are subtitles. Get the hankies ready! "
G. Quevedo | Plantation, Florida | 08/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are Cuban this movie will mean the world to you. My husband and I are Cuban and this movie really moved us. These people depicted, are our people, they are the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncle, aunts and cousins we have left behind when our families left the island. And they want to be free too, but like everything in life, freedom comes with a price and some people don't want to pay the price no matter what the benefit. Whether you were born in Cuba or another country, everyone should see this movie and be grateful we live in the United States of America."