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Broadcast on CBC: Friday April 2, 2004
OLIVER STONE'S COMANDANTE

In February 2002, acclaimed director Oliver Stone traveled to Havana to meet with Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Over the course of three days, the two men engaged in a series of frank conversations, which culminated, months later, in the film Comandante.

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Due to bandwidth costs this video will only be available online 04/05/04 through 04/12/04

In an interview with the London Times, Oliver Stone noted that directing Comandante - his first documentary film - has given him a welcome break from movie-making.

I was tired of movies because they’re so big, expensive and artificial...and also the digital aspect was so important. It was great to take up the camera and feel it out and feel the freedom.

The project began when Fernando Sulichan, a Spanish producer, offered Stone a chance to interview Fidel Castro for Spanish TV.

The Cuban leader had agreed to the interview under the condition that he could stop filming at any moment. The production team taped over 30 hours of interviews and Castro never exercised his power to stop the cameras.

Over the three days, Stone films Castro working at his office, touring a medical school and a museum, and follows him through the streets where he mingles freely with Cuban citizens.

In an interview with the BBC, Stone talked about his thoughts on Castro.

"Castro is isolated in the hemisphere and for those reasons I admire him because he's a fighter. He stood alone and in a sense he's Don Quixote, the last revolutionary, tilting at this windmill of keeping the island in a state of, I suppose, egalitarianism where everyone would get the break, everyone gets the education and everyone gets good water."

The film paints Castro as an engaging and intelligent leader, and looks beyond the familiar beard, cigar and jungle fatigues. Stone and Castro discuss pivotal moment in world history such as President Kennedy's assassination, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.

Originally produced for Spanish television, the European and American film communities expressed interest in the documentary. Comandante premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2003 and HBO planned to air the film the following May in the U.S. 

In April 2003 several men armed with a pistol and knives hijacked a Cuban ferry and 50 passengers and ordered the captain to sail for the U.S. The ferry was captured by Cuban authorities and a few days later three of the hijackers were executed by firing squad, on Castro's orders. 75 other dissidents were imprisoned.

In the controversy over this news story Comandante was banned from the New York Tribeca film festival and HBO postponed its broadcast stating that current events made the film 'incomplete'. 

The network asked Oliver Stone to return to Cuba and interview Castro again with recent events in mind. Castro agreed as he was upset by the accusations and wanted to have a chance to deny them. The resulting film, Looking for Fidel is scheduled to run on HBO in April 2004.

Stone has also directed a documentary, Persona Non Grata about Yasser Arafat and the current state of the Palestinian conflict.


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