Library responds to accusations that Human Rights Film Festival distorts conditions in Cuba
The Princeton Public Library has inadvertently set off a firestorm of criticism involving Cuba, health care and human rights.
According to some critics, two of the 15 films shown during the library’s annual Human Rights Film Festival last weekend are “propaganda” and do not accurately reflect life in Cuba.
“I think it’s outrageous to have a film festival at a public library that leaves out all the realities of Cuba, especially when you have thousands of witnesses to the human rights violations,” said Maria C. Werlau, executive director of Cuba Archive, an organization that collects information about the country. Ms. Werlau and Princeton Township resident Fausta Wertz raised issue with the documentaries “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” and “Salud! What Puts Cuba on the Map in the Quest for Global Health Care.”
Ms. Wertz attended the festival; Ms. Werlau, a Summit resident, did not.
“To have a film that is clear propaganda and that is far removed from the reality of the average Cuban seemed pretty outrageous,” Ms. Werlau said. “And to have a film festival that doesn’t address the blatant and egregious human rights violations in Cuba seems really unbalanced.”
Leslie Burger, library director, said the film festival committee had no intentions to glorify Cuba. “Salud!” and “The Power of Community” were chosen because of the issues they addressed, not where they were filmed.
“They felt it was unbalanced because there were two films that were holding Cuba up as a model, and that really wasn’t it,” Ms. Burger said. “It wasn’t a Cuban film festival. It was a human rights festival. The conversations we were trying to have were about education and energy and health care and immigration and disaster relief.”
But not about how Cubans are not allowed access to the country’s best medical facilities, are not free to travel or immigrate as they best please, and how Cuba suffered cholera and dengue outbursts after recent hurracaines.
The selection committee, headed by youth services librarian Pamela Groves, followed a list of criteria that included: whether a film educates and informs; treats complex issues in a skillful way; is unlikely to receive wide distribution; and has the potential to inspire, motivate and stimulate meaningful dialogue.
“What we were trying to do is focus on things that we think are the rights of human beings versus the human rights violations in the world,” Ms. Burger said. Ms. Groves could not be reached for comment.
Fallout began after the library posted the film schedule on its Web site, and Ms. Wertz discussed the festival on her blog, http://faustasblog.com. One Internet link led to another, and soon people nationwide learned of the library’s plans to show “Salud” and “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.”
Ms. Burger received a flood of phone calls and e-mails urging her to pull the films and exclude Ellen Bernstein of Pastors for Peace from a discussion about Cuba’s public health system, she said.
“It’s really interesting how the word got out in a snap, and people from all over who had nothing to do with this community were calling,” Ms. Burger said.
I live in the township.
No one returned my call.
“We could have made a decision to pull the films in light of the reaction, but we feel it’s important for people to practice free expression.”
Ms. Wertz and Ms. Werlau said they respect the committee’s right to show films of its choosing. However, they add, the committee should have included films to counter the positive light “Salud” and “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” cast on Cuba.
They suggested films such as “Before Night Falls,” “Children of Paradise,” “A Patriot’s Path to Democracy” and “The Torture in Castro’s Cuba.”
“The thing about the two films is not that they’re being shown. I have no objection to that,” Ms. Wertz said. “The facts on Cuba are not the facts that were shown.”
Allow me to say that I also explicitly pointed out both in our telephone conversation and via email to Ms Boyd who wrote the article, that the Cuban healthcare system is a de facto apartheid system to which Cubans do not have access. The Packet chose to ignore that fact but instead pushes Ellen Berstein’s line (emphasis added):
Ms. Bernstein agreed Cuba “is not a perfect place,” but that does not discount the country’s “exemplary health-care system.” If films about persecution and poverty are being told, then “Salud” also deserves to be told, she said.
“I think it’s a shame that such a simple message has to be so controversial,” said Ms. Bernstein, who lives in northern New Jersey and visited Cuba in April. “The point was to talk about health care as a human right.”
A right denied to the very citizens of Cuba.
Ms. Wertz and Ms. Werlau said it’s inexcusable to ignore Cuba’s human rights violations — such as rationing food, jailing journalists and librarians for disseminating information and promoting a public health system they say is based on apartheid in treating different citizens unequally — during a human rights film festival.
Two members of the audience witnessed that the Cubans are not allowed to use medical facilities that are designated for foreigners’ use only.
It’s not me saying it. It’s not Ms Werlau saying it. It’s a fact.
The article continues:
“Where is the movie on that?” Ms. Werlau asked.
Ms. Burger said she recognizes the atrocities happening in Cuba, but she also believed it was important to include “Salud” and “The Power of Community.”
Still, she added, the films have caused more grief than she or the selection committee ever bargained for.
“It’s really a very polarizing topic,” Ms. Burger said. “In retrospect, I might make a different decision than three months ago. The controversy is not worth it. I’m not sure what’s been accomplished here except a whole lot of people are angry.”
Of course we’re angry. We’re funding this with our own taxes and are expected to have no say about it.
Prior posts here
El Cafe Cubano continues the Friday fast for all political prisoners in Cuba