By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 9 — I’m told that director Estela Bravo’s home is filled with recordings of interviews that contain key aspects of the history of Cuba, Latin America, and the US and beyond. On Wednesday night her latest of over 30 documentaries, “Operation Peter Pan: Seeking Closure in Cuba” was premiered to a full house at the 23rd and 12th street cinema as part of the Havana Film Festival taking place through Dec. 12.
Once again, Bravo showed her ability to tell a story with a transparent heart that has contributed to the long uphill battle to improve understanding and relations between Cubans, and also between Cuba and the US as neighboring nations. She has done so in films involving leaders and others, like this film, revolving around regular people caught in a longstanding time warp spun by politicians on both sides of the Florida Straits.
The painful story of 14,000 Cuban children who were sent by their parents to the United States during the first four years after the 1959 Cuban revolution -allegedly to avoid communist indoctrination or worse- gives the audience, like the protagonists, a chance to reflect on what happened nearly five decades ago and what can be salvaged today.
Estela filmed the protagonists in both 1999 and 2009, as well as gathered footage from the initial airlifts that brought them to the USA. Bravo carefully keeps to the issues at hand involving the Peter Pans, makes a convincing case against the CIA as organizers, and lets the audience make up their minds on the protective or manipulative role of parents and the Catholic Church, the key above-board players in the splitting up of Cuban families.
Anger and/or understanding of parents, foster homes, some caring, some unbearable, orphanages that included the type of sexual abuse that has rocked the Catholic Church with scandal in recent years, marks this large group of people trying to put the pieces of their lives together.
The film was dedicated to Elly Chovel, the woman responsible for founding the Pedro Pan organization in Miami to bring these former child emigrants together and foment mutual support for their reencounter with the past and present. Elly died in 2009.
The film’s synopsis reads:
“Between 1960 and 1962, at the beginning of the Cuban revolution, more than 14,000 children were sent by their parents to the United States. Many of the parents decided to do so based on a bogus piece of legislation, the so-called Homeland custody law, that would have given the revolutionary State authority over parents. The documentary shows that the massive exit of Cuban children was organized by the US State Dept. to destabilize the Cuban government. Testimonies of several of these children, now adults [in their late fifties or early sixties], is conveyed through their life experiences. In 2009, the first group of Peter Pans visited Cuba and said: ‘We have returned to close this circle of our lives, to reconcile and make peace with ourselves, with our history and with our country.”
Four of the Peter Pans that bared their pain in telling their stories took the stage before the showing as well as Estela Bravo, producer Ernesto Bravo and others who made the 57-minute documentary possible.
Some of Estela Bravo’s other recent works include: “Who Am I” (2007) about the children who discover their real identities decades after being kidnapped as newborns or toddlers after the murder of the parents at the hands of the Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983??); “The Cuban Excludables” (1997), “Fidel: The Untold Story” (2001), and Flying Freely (2004).
Estela Bravo can be reached at: [email protected]