“Mariel” Documentary Wins Coveted Audience Award at Gasparilla International Film Festival

Note: Originally published in the Florida Southern College Newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

LAKELAND, Fla. (April 14, 2011) – Voices From Mariel, a one-of-a-kind documentary film produced locally by NFocus Pictures and featuring Florida Southern College professor Jose Garcia, won great acclaim and secured the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Gasparilla International Film Festival. The film is scheduled for its second public showing on April 30 at the Polk Theatre in Lakeland, Florida.

At the March 26 Festival in Ybor City, the film debuted in front of a sold-out audience and upon its completion, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“It was an incredible experience to be there for the debut and to have the film so well received by the audience,” said Garcia. “We knew Voices From Mariel was very special and we were extremely honored to receive the Audience Choice for Best Documentary Award.”

In 1980, Cuban leader Fidel Castro permitted his people to board boats at the Port of Mariel to come to the United States. Nearly 125,000 Cuban citizens, from April to September of that year, crowded barely seaworthy boats in search of a better life in America. Dr. Garcia and his parents were among those who made it. He was 13 years old. He is now the Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies and Modern Languages Chair at Florida Southern College.

Despite his life’s accomplishments, Dr. Garcia says he cannot rid himself of a sense of loss, including his homeland, his friends, and indeed, part of his identity.

“I was a cultural orphan,” Garcia says.

Garcia’s desire to rediscover his Cuban heritage was the impetus for Voices From Mariel.

In the film, Garcia and the NFocus team conduct numerous interviews with other Mariel survivors willing to share their stories. They also return to Cuba to document Garcia’s experiences as he reconnects with loved ones still living in Cuba today.

According to the film’s producers, the project involved great planning and risk and is believed to be a one-of-a-kind look at the lives of Mariel’s Cuban-Americans 30 years later. It also provides a recent and rare glimpse into the lives of people who still live in Cuba today.

Each year, the Gasparilla International Film Festival receives more than 500 submissions, but only 15 percent are selected for inclusion. The Festival is in its fifth year and ranks as Tampa/St. Petersburg’s largest independent film festival. It showcases features, documentaries, shorts, music videos, and family-friendly films.

Hillary Walker, a Florida Southern College student, attended the film debut.

“Voices From Mariel was a very emotional and very authentic documentary,” she said. “It was a huge success due to its emotional draw, raw footage, and unique perspectives. I can’t wait to see it again.”

The creation of Voices From Mariel, which was produced and directed by the Lakeland film company NFocus Pictures, would not have been possible without significant contributions from members of the Florida Southern College community.

NFocus producer Rob Tritton and director Jim Carleton were able to bring together FSC Professor Jose Garcia as the film’s focus, and FSC graduate Jesse Larson as the film’s co-producer. Other members of the FSC community who contributed to the project are Adam Davidson, a current student who created the original score for the film, current student Joshua Mazur who provided some vocals and other general assistance, FSC graduate Nathan Herrara, who provided three compositions for the film, and Dr. Adriana Tolentino-Solano, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, who provided language translation for the film.

The relationship between Florida Southern College Professor Jose Garcia and NFocus Pictures began when co-producer Jessie Larson was a student of Garcia’s. After learning of Garcia’s story of Mariel, Larson suggested the idea of filming the documentary and preserving his history. Larson was freelancing with NFocus at the time and the project was brought to fruition. Larson, a recent graduate of FSC, is now employed full-time with NFocus.

Florida Southern College is nationally recognized for the high-quality, hands-on educational experiences that it offers to all students.

The April 30 showing of Voices From Mariel is open to the public. Tickets for the film can be purchased online at www.polktheatre.org , by phone at 863-682-7553 or in person at the Polk Theatre office located at 139 South Florida Avenue, in Lakeland. Ticket price is $10 for movie admission, or $20 for movie and street party admission. The film will be released in May and copies of the film can be pre-ordered at www.voicesfrommariel.com.