Jordan Allott: A friend of the Cuban people

Photo taken from Uncommon Sense

A very important aspect of this blog is that it is not only a collection of Cuban voices in and out of the island, but it is also a space where those who are not Cuban, yet that have helped with the cause of promoting freedom within the island and promoting the Cuban reality throughout the world, can share their stories.  Cubans, whether they live in Cuba or reside in exile throughout the world, feel a profound admiration and appreciation for this kind of solidarity.

Jordan Allott, an American film producer, is one of these figures who have demonstrated such solidarity with the Cuban people.  Jordan traveled to Cuba with the intention of filming a documentary about the life of the peaceful fighter, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, whom he had heard lots about.  The result of this adventure was a film titled “Oscar’s Cuba”, made possible by clandestinely capturing, through video, not only the story of Dr. Biscet, but also of other dissidents in the island, as well as every day Cubans.  When Jordan returned from this emotional trip, he did not stop spreading the word about Cuba’s reality.  He has showcased this excellent documentary throughout the world, always standing up for the name of Dr. Biscet, the Cuban opposition, and of Cuba.

Marc Masferrer, author of the excellent blog Uncommon Sense, has published a list of what he considers to be the “Top 10 Cubans of 2010”.  In it, Jordan Allott ranks as number 8, which goes to show you the importance of this loyal friend of the Cuban cause.

His story:

Please give us a background of who you are. 

My name is Jordan Allott and I am Executive Producer of In Altum Productions, a Production company based outside of Washington D.C.  I was born in Reading England, but grew up in the United States.  I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a triple major in Philosophy, political science and film and since then have been working in the film and video production field. 

What is “In Altum Productions”? What are some of the projects that have been realized through this company?

In Altum Productions is a Production company based outside of Washington D.C.  We have produced a variety of projects ranging in subject matter from US and international politics, mountain climbing and Catholic spirituality. 

Was it your faith in God that inspired you to learn more about Cuba and eventually led you to filming “Oscar’s Cuba”?

I would say that it is my faith that inspires me to work on projects that represent my beliefs.  Oscar’s Cuba was an ideal project in that way.

What is it about the life of Oscar Elias Biscet that inspired you to focus on his story?

Dr. Biscet is an ardent supporter of the right to life and links it with all other basic human rights.  I felt a calling to spread his message and story.  Reading about his stand for the right to life was very inspiring to me.  He grew up as a child of the revolution and someone completely in the system.  Yet he knew that what he was being asked to do and what he was being asked to ignore, the indiscriminate taking of innocent human life, was wrong.  Not only did he refuse to participate, but he also made a public stand!  Most in free countries would never think of doing this.  Even those who disagree with his beliefs have to respect his courage and dedication.  I then felt called to do my part to spread his story.

Which are the struggles that the Catholic community faces in Cuba?

There are many temptations and obstacles that can separate a community from their faith.  In Cuba there are many more obstacles.  When a government controls almost every aspect of your life and also punishes you for your faith, the obstacles can seem overwhelming.

Before you engaged in this project, what was your impression of Cuba? 

My impression of Cuba was that it was an island that suffered under communism.  But I didn’t have any sort of connection to the island.  All we hear about Cuba is Fidel Castro.  But as Oswaldo Paya said in the film, “more than 11 million other individuals exist in Cuba.  Individuals who have a right to rights.”  The media has done a very poor job connecting the international community with the people of Cuba through personal stories like that of Dr. Biscet. And I believe his name, face and story is an ideal representation of the struggle the Cuban people have faced over the past 50 years.  He is also a great symbol of the future and all that is virtuous about the Cuban people.

Please explain about the process of filming in Cuba.  Did you have to get approval from the Cuban government? 

I would not have received permission to shoot a film on Dr. Biscet from the Cuban government.  I traveled throughout Cuba as a tourist, with minimal equipment and by myself.  This helped me maintain my tourist persona while on the island. I was stopped at one point while shooting in Santiago de Cuba by police officers.  They were upset at the questions I was asking a couple of people on the street.  After about 20 minutes and having my video tapes reviewed, I was allowed to leave the area.  I was worried at this point and the situation reminded me that I needed to be a little more discreet about who, where, and how I asked questions and shot my video.

In the process of detailing the struggle of Oscar Biscet, your documentary also shows many other dissidents on the island.  Was it easy for you to get in contact with these other dissidents? 

It wasn’t easy, but I had contacts who pointed me to other contacts, etc.  It helped that during my first trip to Cuba I was on the island for three weeks.  This enabled me to take my time in establishing contacts, conducting interviews, etc.  Nothing happens quickly or efficiently in Cuba.

Where have you taken “Oscar’s Cuba”? How has the response been in each city?

We have screened Oscar’s Cuba all over the world and the response has been fantastic.  We have screened in Paris, Madrid, LA, Miami, Key West, Chihuahua, Mexico, New Jersey and in Washington DC on a number of occasions.  We screened the film on Capital Hill, at the Heritage Foundation and at the Czech Embassy.  He also have recently started a university tour and have screened at universities such as Harvard, Tufts, Notre Dame, Michigan, Central Florida, South Florida and George Washington.  More screenings are being scheduled in Seattle, Las Vegas and other cities.  We are probably most proud of that face that we have had the documentary screened at the US Interests Section in Havana and at homes around the country.  We have just initiated a plan to send in a few hundred copies of the film on flash drives so that the people of Cuba can learn more about Dr. Biscet and the Freedom movement in Cuba.

You showed this film to the US Congress on September 22nd 2010- why did you decide to show this to them and what were their reactions?

We received a very good reaction and a lot of media attention.  Dr. Biscet received the 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom and has always been respected by the United States government for the work he has done.  Why did we decide to screen here?  Well, we will screen the project whenever and wherever opportunities exist.  Through our contacts this opportunity came about.  Our goal is to get as many people as possible to view the documentary.

As an American, what shocked you the most about the Cuban reality?

Again, I think witnessing the hopelessness and fear that exists.  In most cultures and countries to strive for a better life and to strive to become a better and more complete person is encouraged and rewarded.  In Cuba it is the opposite.  Apathy and hopelessness exist because attempts to strive for more are not rewarded and in fact are punished.

What have your experiences been with the Cuban exile community?  Did you know that there was so much pain involved?

I knew there was pain involved but because most of the pain is so relatively recent (the past 50 years) it makes it that much more emotional and real.  Hearing the many stories of the exile community has been one of the most impacting experiences I have had while working on this project.  Hearing these stories and making these personal connections has motivated me to keep working hard to play my role in helping to spread the message of Dr. Biscet and of the reality of the experience of Cubans in Cuba.

In the screening of “Oscar’s Cuba” in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Miami, you mentioned that the issue of Cuba is not very well known among circles of journalists and intellectuals in the United States.  Why do you think this is so?

The media on all ends of the political spectrum have done a disservice to the Cuban freedom movement by focusing only on two issues: Fidel Castro and the embargo.  These are old and tired issues.  They may be important but focusing the free world’s attention on personal stories of those who are fighting for liberty and democracy is a better hook for people to want to know and learn more.  If individuals think about Dr. Biscet every time Cuba is mentioned, the independence movement will be greatly helped.  He is a sympathetic figure who is, at this very moment, sacrificing his life for his people.  This is something free people can relate with and rally around.

Based on your experiences in Cuba and your experiences outside of Cuba among exiles, would you say that the future of the island is hopeful?

 I think so.  It seems people inside and outside of Cuba are more hopeful than they were even one or two years ago.  Of course it is difficult to become too optimistic after 50 years of waiting and suffering.  However, I do sense a new wave of optimism and hope.  Hope should always remain.  Dr. Biscet remains hopeful of his release and a free Cuba.  If he can remain hopeful in the conditions he is forced to exist in, then we should all do the same.

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