'Embargo': Film Review
Jeri Rice's documentary recounts the history of the United States embargo against Cuba.
Embargo raises more questions than it answers. Jeri Rice’s documentary attempts to chronicle the decades-long embargo of Cuba by the United States. But the novice filmmaker doesn’t manage to successfully tie together the strands of her sprawling narrative, which spans from the island nation’s pre-Castro era to the present day in which President Trump has vowed to at least partially reverse his predecessor’s lifting of the embargo. Diffuse and rambling, the documentary offers plenty of fascinating historical tidbits but lacks the breadth and depth to do justice to its complicated narrative.
The documentary certainly has a personal feel, with the director/screenwriter describing the intense fear she felt as a child during the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Years later, in 2002, she found herself on a trip to Cuba along with a group of women from the Pacific Northwest, including U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell. Fidel Castro personally met with the group and told Rice, “I tried to create a utopia and I failed. And I don’t have time to fix it.”
That comment haunted Rice and eventually led her to make her filmmaking debut with this rough-hewn effort. Although the film features generous amounts of archival footage in its recounting of such incidents as the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion and the Elian Gonzalez controversy (giving you a sense of how far and wide it travels), the documentary is most notable for its many interviews. Many of the accounts are of the second-hand variety, such as the segments featuring Robert Kennedy, Jr., son of RFK; Sergei Khrushchev, son of Nikita; Jack O’ Halloran, son of mafia figure Albert Anastasia; and Lucie Arnaz, son of Desi. But that doesn’t make their recollections of their fathers’ experiences any less interesting. And the direct accounts, such as that delivered by John F. Kennedy advisor Ted Sorenson, are even more fascinating.
Among the most provocative moments is RFK Jr.’s assertion that Richard Nixon was directly responsible for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. But like so many of the points made in the film, the evidence remains unexplored. The filmmaker attempts to cover so much ground that the results seem scattershot rather than scholarly, filled with digressions that fail to advance the central thesis. She also inserts herself into the proceedings far too frequently, often providing personal commentary that doesn’t add much informationally.
No doubt many viewers, even if they agree with the film’s argument that the embargo has been failed policy, will take issue with its sustained condemnation of American actions while whitewashing Cuba’s repressive regime. Embargo is likely to raise many spirited arguments, but it’s not likely to change many people’s minds.
Production: Next Year in Havana Films
Distributor: Exposure Distribution
Director/producer: Jeri Rice
Screenwriters: Jeri Rice, Mark Monroe
Executive producers: Aris Anagnos, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Kathleen Lewis, Gregory D. Lutin, Jorge M. Perez, Jeri Rice, Suzanne Thompson
Director of photography: Todd Sali
Editors: Alex Chavez, Danny Daneau, Zach Gouz, Rajeana Price
Composer: Kully Bhamra