Engaging story of a six-week filming/exploration of Cuban coastal waters.
While plenty has been written about the political history of Cuba, there’s little to be found regarding the country’s impressive natural history, including its 5,000-mile coastline, an irresistible bounty for marine scientists. As funding for marine research dries up, scientists find themselves hitching up with documentary filmmakers to gain access to sites. This gives credence to the documentaries, Belleville explains, but often pure research plays second fiddle to the dictates of the visual glamour that the filmmakers are after, which is rarely sparked by the endemic and rare, but by what the lay audience will find entertaining. This tension is finely portrayed by Belleville, as are all the political hurdles the expedition must jump, starting with the rude awareness that “our country’s role in the destiny of Cuba has not been a noble one.” And although “large American-sponsored missions that have landed here in the past have been anything but benign,” this first American expedition into the waters off Cuba in 50 years is given wide access and even a visit from Castro. El Jefe’s concern over the fate of Cuba’s coast is echoed by Belleville when he considers the impact development will have on the shoreline once the embargo is lifted. Thus all the more special is this snapshot of Cuban waters at a moment when they are protected by the simple expedience of severely limited tourism (“If the best places are found at the end of the worst roads, then this southern Cuban coast surely claims some of the best places in the entire world”). Belleville also provides significant material about the scientists’ work on bioluminescence, fish inventories, and deep-sea exploration.
Environmental journalist and diver Belleville (River of Lakes, 2000) works hard to achieve a documentary-maker’s dream: exciting a broad pubic empathy for a place and its creatures.