Six days to save a worthy film

May 9, 2012

By Dan Lybarger

Mica Jarmel-Schneider is an activist who has smuggled contraband to Cuba and by doing so has forced us to reevaluate our policy toward the island nation. What makes Jarmel-Schneider’s feat even more astonishing is that he conducted his subversive activities as part of his bar mitzvah and the forbidden items he smuggled into Castro’s Cuba are baseballs.

Got Balz? is a new documentary that chronicles Jarmel-Schneider’s unusual but poignant quest. His grandfather fled to Cuba to escape the Nazis, and the San Francisco teen wouldn’t be with us today if it had not been for the hospitality of the Cubans. Because Jarmel-Schneider, like a lot of Yanks and Cubans, loves baseball, he thought sending balls and other equipment would be a way of thanking the current residents of Cuba for their ancestors’ kindness.

Unfortunately, for five decades it’s been illegal to send even innocuous items like baseballs to Cuba. The film documents how Jarmel-Schneider and his allies had to leap through, around and over seemingly innumerable obstacles to get the baseballs to eager players. In these sequences, Got Balz? plays like an oddly entertaining combination of a farce and an espionage thriller.

In my career as a film critic, I’ve found that endorsing a film before it is finished is foolish and unethical. For this project, however, I am not a critic. I’m an investor, albeit one who has made a paltry contribution.

The story is near and dear to my heart, in part, because my Missouri-born girlfriend’s ancestors came from Cuba. Fifty years of the trade boycott has done nothing but strengthen the oppressive regime of the Castro brothers and inhibit potentially useful cultural exchanges like the one Mr. Jarmel-Schneider has accomplished.

The filmmakers are trying to raise $40,000 through and have only a week to meet the goal. They need the cash to finish paying for the music and to rework the sound that so that it’s presentable outside the festival circuit. If they don’t get the cash before May 16, Jarmel-Schneider’s inspiring story may not reach the wider audience it richly deserves.

Having sat through hundreds of films that wasted far larger sums of money (can we say John Carter?), I’d like to think that it’s not too much to ask for others to show a little of the initiative and courage that Jarmel-Schneider took to say a simple, but heartfelt “gracias” to the people of Cuba.

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