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Balseros

Directors: Carlos Bosch, Jose Maria Domenech

Topic: Seven Cubans arrive in the United States on makeshift rafts and struggle to attain the American Dream.

Financier: TV3 (Public Television of Catalonia) with co-producers Bausan Films and David Trueba

Budget: Roughly $600,000

Shooting format: Betacam, Digital Betacam, mini-DV

Why it made the list: An epic seven-year time span; charismatic range of Cubans’ personalities; profound moments of despair and loneliness

Memorable scenes: Havana residents break up their own homes to make rafts to flee Cuba. Family members’ only connection with each other is through heartbreaking videotapes, brought back and forth by the filmmakers. A woman, Mericys, prostitutes herself to finance the journey, but is turned back because of stormy weather. When she finally visits her sister Misclaida several years later in New Mexico, her sibling is a drug addict. Even more tragic is the sight of Rafael, a once-smiling young Cuban who has been disabled in a car accident, hobbling down the street in Texas.

Distribution/broadcast status: Seventh Art Releasing; opened at Film Forum in July; HBO/Cinemax has tentative broadcast date for March.

Exposure to date: Toronto and Sundance film fests; documentary feature, Intl. Documentary Awards; Miami Film Festival audience award; Havana Film Festival special jury award

On making the film: In 1994 Bosch took a vacation to Havana to escape his regular gig as a war correspondent in Sarajevo. There he discovered some 30,000 Cubans, nicknamed balseros or rafters, were attempting to sail to the U.S. on makeshift rafts. “I called my bosses and said there is a great story here,” Bosch says. “What does it mean to leave your country behind and move to a country that has nothing to do with your own?”

After filing an initial news report, Bosch thought, “One day, somebody will do a film about this. It has seven characters with these incredible obstacles.”

Bosch and his co-director-cameraman, Domenech, returned a year later to find many of the balseros waiting for visas at detention camps in Guantanomo Bay. Again, five years later, they revisited their protagonists — some back in Cuba and others who had set up often less-than-successful new lives in America.

“It was not my intention to show how hard it is to make it in the United States,” says Bosch. “But having said that, the outcome of their lives is very representative of the 30,000 rafters, and the unlucky lives of millions of immigrants today.”

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