Filmmaker Mirella Martinelli says that the original idea she had when conceiving of her latest documentary called “Frenemies,” was to examine the perceptions that Americans had before and after they visited Cuba.

But she says that after conducting more research and visiting the island nation herself, she felt “the weight” of the nearly six decades long U.S. government imposed economic sanctions against the Cuban government, and duly changed course.

What You Need To Know

  • The film, “Frenemies: Cuba and the U.S. Embargo,” will be shown this Saturday afternoon at the Tampa Theatre

  • There will be a panel discussion hosted by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club after the screening.

  • The U.S. government imposed an economic embargo on the Republic of Cuba in February of 1962

The result is a feature length documentary that is scheduled to screen at the Tampa Theatre this Saturday afternoon, with a discussion of U.S. - Cuban relations to follow that will be facilitated by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

“The aim that I have for 'Frenemies' now…is to bring dialogue to this issue that is a hot button issue for a lot of people,” Martinelli told Spectrum Bay News 9 in an interview held earlier this week at her Sarasota home. “A lot of people get very passionate about it, but we are in a gridlock, because there is this policy that has been in place for over 60 years, and clearly didn’t work.”

Florida poll of 400 Cuban Americans taken earlier this year showed 66 percent said that they opposed normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Another survey taken by Florida International University professors in 2020 showed that 60 percent of Cuban Americans in South Florida support the continuation of the embargo.

Yet polls taken a few years earlier amongst all Americans showed strong support for ending the embargo. A Pew Research Center survey from December of 2016 showed that 73 percent favored ending the trade embargo.

In late 2014, former President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would ease restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. Those policies were reversed by former President Donald Trump early in his administration in 2017. 

In July of this year, President Joe Biden imposed new sanctions on the Cuban police force and two of its leaders in response to the Cuban government's crackdown on protestors that occurred after an extremely rare public demonstration by the Cuban people earlier that month.

Martinelli, a Brazilian native, says her film is an even-handed look at the situation, and dissents from what she calls the “Cuba Solidarity movement” in the U.S. “I see a lot of value and good intentions in that movement, but a lot of times it’s kind of trying to hide the bad aspects of Cuba,” she says. "I am committed to show things as close as to the truth as I perceive it."

But she also says the the film gets the message across that the U.S. policy towards Cuba "is violating human rights." 

Martinelli says that her criteria for choosing who appeared in the movie was that they had to have been to Cuba and experienced the country first-hand, and the other was to get a diversity of all types of people, including their age, ethnicity and political leanings. That includes people who don’t think like she does. But she also acknowledges that a lot of her interviews set that she had set up with Cubans were cancelled, because they were intimidated to go on camera.

“There is a lack of civil liberties in general there, and that is very bad. So 'Frenemies' shows that, too,” she says.

What has been labeled as a “peaceful protest” is scheduled to take place a few hours before the 2PM screening of “Frenemies” at the Tampa Theatre this Saturday afternoon. Martinelli says she’s seen criticism on social media that her film has been “funded” by the Cuban government, a charge she vehemently denies.

“There’s nothing further from the truth,” she declares, saying that she’s an independent artist not tied to any government point of view. She says she received funding from a variety of sources, including the Sarasota Arts & Cultural Alliance, the Puffin foundation, a couple of other film companies, as well as from crowdfunding on the internet.

There is a panel discussion that will be hosted by the Tampa Tiger Bay Club after the conclusion of the film on Saturday. Along with Martinelli, the other panelists include Al Fox, the founder and president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation and a current candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida; Graham Sowa, a Tampa Bay resident who lived in Cuba for seven years while attending medical school on the island; Evelio Otero, Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force Colone andl former congressional candidate; and Rafael Pizano, a son of Cuban immigrants raised in Tampa who serves as a spokesperson, translator, organizer and liaison for non-profit human rights organization domestically and internationally.

“I know a lot of people who will be there already have opinions, but maybe they can have a change of heart, too,” Martinelli says. “I think that we have to soften this. If we remain really extremist on one side, and extremists on the other side, we’re never going to solve it.”