Voices of the Sea
Dir. Kim Hopkins
“…of the humble, with the humble and for the humble” were the words that Fidel Castro famously used to describe the Cuban socialist and democratic revolution. But this motto hardly reflects the reality of the humble in Cuba today.
In Voices of the Sea, Kim Hopkins exposes the hypocrisy behind Cuba’s communist ideology. Hopkins follows Cuban native Mariela and her family to capture the daily struggles and anxieties of the country’s working class. While politics, Castro, and immigration foreground the narrative, the glimpse into Mariela’s life makes this doc so notable.
The film mostly takes place on Cuba’s Casio Beach– Mariela’s desolate yet scenic place of residence. Mariela lives with her kids and husband Pita, who works as a fisherman. Since academic and career prospects are scarce, fishing is the most common occupation in their village. Mariela, like many Cubans, is torn between accepting the bleak reality at home and seeking a better future in the U.S.
Nearly everyone in Mariela’s village is attempting to flee to America but only a few can afford to do so legally. Most escape by water and risk being caught, fined and imprisoned. Others perish at sea.
The main catch of Hopkins’ doc is that her subjects are always the first to explain and demonstrate the political issues raised in the film. Pita’s friends chuckle about the futility of Obama’s meeting with Castro. Pita expresses his disappointment in the revolution. Mariela unravels the mentality behind mass migration to Miami as she criticizes the government’s disregard for the poor.
Hopkins doesn’t play the middleman and fully trusts the subjects with her platform. It’s most evident in the doc’s first-hand demonstration of the wet foot, dry foot policy, which allowed Cuban migrants to seek asylum in the U.S. as long as they reached the American soil and remained for a year. Voices of the Sea sees this quest for asylum in action as Pita’s best friend Michel and his wife film their journey sailing from Cuba to Miami. Michel’s footage conveys the excruciating feeling of vulnerability and uneasiness experienced by migrants at sea, as they risk being caught and sent back to Cuba at any moment.
Voices of the Sea doesn’t have a shortage of picturesque sunsets, skillfully framed portraits and soothing views of the seashore. Its colour palate, dominated by the shades of blue, transforms from hypnotic to precarious as the subjects unveil the tragic chronicle of innocent lives seized by the sea. The film’s striking cinematography offers eye candy, a common occurrence in many first world films made about third world countries. But while giving in to aesthetic indulgence, Hopkins avoids the toxic tropes of exploitative filmmaking. Her subjects seem very aware of the strangers’ gaze; they confidently lead the camera into their country’s malaise without arousing unneeded sympathy.
Hopkins’ melancholic, slow-paced approach to documenting a deteriorating life in an impoverished community isn’t breakthrough. What the film lacks in innovation it gains in insight, and its glimpse into the lives of Cuba’s working class masterfully captures the humanity and complexity of Hopkins’ subjects, placing people’s aspirations before any political agenda. In today’s political landscape, the film’s commentary on volatile immigration policies is especially timely and would make, at least North American audiences, very aware of their privilege.
Voices of the Sea screens in Toronto on Thursday, July 19 at Innis Town Hall at 6:30 PM as part of the Jayu Human Rights Screening Series.