Two historically unique separate docs, “A Day with Fidel” and “Fidel Recalls Che,” make up the recently reissued material shot by Italian journalist Gianni Mina principally in June 1987, when an on-camera interview he scheduled with Fidel Castro in Havana unexpectedly turned into an outpouring lasting 16 uninterrupted hours, during which time the Cuban leader gives the world his p.o.v. on the revolution. Seen 20 years later, these worshipful, well-crafted docs, complemented by historical photos and newsreels, offer a taste of Castro’s hypnotic intellectual power.
Along with Oliver Stone’s “Comandante,” which preemed in Berlin in 2002, these are the only authorized on-camera interviews ever conceded by the Maximo Lider. Though they lack Stone’s star power, the docs are watchable enough for TV viewing, especially the lively one on Che Guevara.
Unlike Stone’s blunt questioning, the Italian journalist Mina appears extremely close to Castro’s political positions; even the tentative questions he poses about human rights in Cuba seem tailor-made to be easily refuted. Far from probing investigative journalism, his pro-Castro slant is so transparent that the material comes through as relatively unmanipulated — an open mike, as it were, for F.C.
Castro certainly has more interesting things to say about Che than the revolutionary’s friend Alberto Granado did in Mina’s previous doc, “Traveling With Che Guevara,” which was practically a tie-in with Walter Salles’ feature “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
In “Fidel Recalls Che,” Castro’s razor-sharp memory dives into detailed recollections about why Che left Cuba to spread the revolutionary movement in Bolivia, how his guerrilla band got cut off and was unable to receive assistance from his Cuban friends, his capture and execution in 1967 and his legacy. Castro also sheds light on Che’s movements in Africa, where he went in disguise between leaving Cuba and returning to South America. Refueling the myth of the Argentine revolutionary, “Fidel Recalls Che” should find a ready-made audience in many parts of the world.
More suitable for history channel buffs, “A Day With Fidel” has its curious moments but tends to drone on. It begins in the Cuban Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center and winds up in Castro’s private quarters. The most fascinating thing about it is a chance to view the Cuban revolution through the ideas of its leader and dictator, whose wide-ranging interests and keen mind are a source of continual amazement.
Among the topics discussed are the international smear campaign against Cuba, the quality and humanity of Cuban prisons, the foreign policy of American presidents Kennedy, Carter and Reagan, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, and his opinions on capitalism and socialism.
The interview was shot between 2 p.m. on a Sunday until 5 the next morning, when Mina says Castro had to poke him awake to keep talking. It is richly intercut with explanatory archival material.