Waiting for Fidel (1974)

“Did the U.S. make you a communist?”

In the documentary film, Waiting for Fidel three men travel to Cuba with the expectation of interviewing Castro. The three men are–Joey Smallwood, former premier of Newfoundland, millionaire Geoff Stirling, and Australian filmmaker Michael Rubbo. The three men are driven to a gorgeous villa in Havana. The villa now belongs to the state, but pre-revolution, it was the property of an American textile millionaire. Here, at the villa, the three men wait … and wait … and wait. Meanwhile the extremely sincere Smallwood eagerly fills pages with questions he can’t wait to ask Castro, and things become heated between Stirling and Rubbo.

While the men wait for Castro to show, they are guided through the highlights of Havana and the newly established socialist system. They visit a school, a building site, a mental hospital, and a university, and both Smallwood’s and Stirling’s reactions are comically predictable. While Smallwood is full of praise and open admiration, Stirling is plainly uncomfortable, and disapproving. It doesn’t seem to matter what they are shown, one can predict their reactions, and there’s an irony to this, as these two men almost become caricatures of their diametrically opposed belief systems. While socialist Smallwood soaks in everything, capitalist Stirling doesn’t bother to hide his impatience and skepticism. Ultimately, this relatively short film (58 minutes), through the odd political coupling of Smallwood with Stirling, illustrates the dissonance between socialism and capitalism, and the improbability of ever swaying someone who believes in one political idea into accepting another (especially if the change is unlikely to bring personal benefit). And this of course, brings us to the larger question of how much one’s experiences and exposure affects political and philosophical ideas.

The film is a little dated (at one point, Stirling mentions Jonathan Livingston Seagull), but it’s still extremely interesting, and the updated post-film interviews with Rubbo and Smallwood are worth catching.


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