When director Carlos Gutierrez set out to make a short film about two Cuban rafters stranded on a deserted island off the coast of Florida, he hoped the movie might renew interest in the U.S. government’s wet foot/dry foot immigration policy.
He never set out to make a movie ripped from the headlines.
Then last month the Bush administration sparked a firestorm when it declared an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys didn’t count as “dry land” and sent back 15 Cubans who had landed there. Suddenly the Miami-native found himself not only promoting his new Spanish-language film but smack dab in the middle of a major political debate.
Under the long-standing policy, Cubans who are picked up at sea are usually returned home, while those who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay.
“It was a story that was there, under the radar, but the best I could hope for was that people would see it and say ’Oh, we should pay attention.’ I never imagined this coincidence,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez hopes to turn “Wet Foot/Dry Foot,” featuring Spanish-language soap star Francisco Gattorno and fellow Cuban actor Jorge Alvarez, into a feature-length movie. A debut screening of the film, which Gutierrez wrote for his masters’ thesis at New York University, was held Feb. 2nd at the University of Miami.
The film follows two starving migrants as they argue over whether to stay on the island or swim to a nearby boat a 100 yards off shore in hopes of finding food — risking being caught by the U.S. Coast Guard with “feet wet.”
The film arrives just weeks after a Cuban-American activist ended an 11-day hunger strike protesting the removal of the 15 migrants, who landed on the abandoned bridge Jan. 4, just about 100 yards from a bridge that is considered U.S. territory. The Bush administration has since agreed to meet with several Florida U.S. congressional representatives to discuss the policy.
Human side to immigration debate
Immigration attorney William Sanchez, who is representing relatives of the migrants in a legal challenge to the federal policy, said he hopes the film will give Americans a better understanding of the issue.
“We're seeing in the fiction something that seems absurd, but it’s not as absurd as the form in which it’s actually being applied on a daily and weekly basis,” Sanchez said.
Gattorno, who currently stars in Telemundo’s “Land of Passions,” and was also featured in the 2000 drama, “Before Night Falls,” said making the film was both exhilarating and painful, forcing him to relive his own decision to leave Cuba in 1994. Although he left through legal channels, Gattorno recalled not being able to see his father for more than eight years.
“It was a time of little hope,” he said. “It’s something that is still raw.”
Gutierrez, the son of two Cuban immigrants, said he hopes the film will provide a human side to the debate over immigration — not just the Cuban experience — but also that of Mexicans and Central Americans.
But he says he tried hard to avoid making the 18-minute film, shot in eight days in the Florida Keys, explicitly political.
“I didn’t want it to be propaganda,” he said. “I wanted it to be about the story. It’s the basic human struggle of not only wanting to survive but wanting to seek freedom and seek freedom at any cost.”