Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


There's no experience more fundamental to American identity than immigration. Everyone in America has seen uprootedness and displacement in his or her family history. Balseros delves into the dramatic odyssey of seven Cuban castaways fleeing their tropical island by raft.

An ambitious, smartly edited documentary epic by a pair of journalists who tenaciously followed their subjects over the course of seven years, the film is both intimate and sweeping. The action follows the émigrés as they construct fragile dinghies, push off into treacherous waters, and are captured and confined in a Guantanamo refugee camp. Years later, we discover the outcome of their struggle to reach the United States. Some have been happily reunited with Miami relatives, while others relied on Catholic aid organizations to settle in resolutely "un-Cuban" rural Nebraska and Connecticut.

Though scattered all over the country, these Cubans are united by the enormous difficulties of trying to succeed in a shockingly new environment. But directors Josep Maria Domenech and Carlos Bosch explore the uniqueness of each character and never sink into generalizations or stereotypes. By exposing us to the characters' lives on both sides of the immigration equation, they allow us to draw our own conclusions about the merits of two radically different societies.

— Caroline Libresco

Screening Details

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