Landfall: Looking Back in Order to Heal
Directed by Cecilia Aldarondo and produced by Lale Namerrow Pastor, Landfall is a 90-minute documentary that “explores the interlaced legacies of colonialism, exploiting industries, disaster capitalism, and the barriers that intervene in recovery.” The film is currently on a tour throughout Puerto Rico. Read on for details.
This documentary traces what happened between the two events that have shaped our generation: Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the resignation of governor Ricardo Roselló in 2019 after massive protests. The sentiment that “only the people can save the people” is not uttered verbatim in the film, but oozes from its most powerful images.
This is a story beyond a counterposition of the people’s struggle and the people’s victory. Examples of community-led reconstruction are mapped throughout Aldarondo’s film, interlaced with evidence of foreign disaster intervention. As jarring as it is to see a crypto colonizer when he mocks a Boricua woman mid-debate, what remains in my mind is a short, seemingly innocuous scene: an older man speaks about the ceiba tree. “It is one of the native species that best withstood the hurricane,” he says.
The important themes are there: the debt, the talent fuge, testimonies of loss. Sure, Act 20/22 was present before the hurricane, but millennial disaster capitalism brought on a new caricature: the bitcoin businessman, a white man harmlessly dressed in the likes of hemp clothing and dreadlocks. “We had vultures coming to Puerto Rico already, the hurricane just brought the showstoppers,” said producer Namerrow via Zoom interview. While crypto-technology is arguably revolutionary, these characters are donning the double-edged sword of “freedom” (I know, triggering) to justify their mission. Director Aldarondo called the bitcoin descent on Puerto Rico “a Trojan horse.”
In another scene, Yaron Brooke (Chairman of the Board of the Ayn Rand Foundation) speaks at a conference somewhere in the metro area. Very unabashedly, he is motivating entrepreneurs to privatize Puerto Rico and earn a living while doing it. “We don’t quite have Stanford here, but…” he says. Yeah, no kidding Yaron.
In a parallel universe, a viewer of the documentary told the director, “you need to show this film in all the history classes at the university.” Aldarondo answered: “If we don’t have a university, where will we show it?!”
While I had a knot in my throat at one point, I finished watching this film in tears. The final scene is a farewell to the Puerto Rico we used to know and a welcome ceremony to the country we can build. When I closed my laptop I thought of one of the most important stencils I have seen in the streets of San Juan:
“Neither people without houses nor houses without people,” and I just blurted it out.
Why watch it
Though it makes a brief appearance in the film, the ceiba tree is an apt symbol for Boricua resistance. There’s a millenary one in Vieques. I’ve seen the tree in person, and I think of how its roots seem taller than the walls of the room I’m writing from.
Before #RickyRenuncia, the last time Boricuas gathered in such great numbers was to call for the expulsion of the U.S. Marine from this part of the archipelago. The damage is clearly there though: People don’t speak Spanish in the Vieques boardwalk. But this seems minute compared to the fact that, due to the lack of a hospital in the island-municipality, technically no one is legally born or legally deceased in Vieques. Technically, no Viequenses are born today. We hate to admit the fact that getting the Marine out wasn’t enough; the (environmental and social) pollution still present in Vieques is an Iv drip that has the potential to seep through all Caribbean nations.
An ongoing (and cruelly accurate) joke is that living in Puerto Rico is an extreme sport. This is why there are more Puerto Ricans outside the archipelago. Namerrow holds that it is important to have conversations about this and recognize that most people who leave do so out of necessity.
Organizing archival material for the film, Namerrow was shocked when they learned that much of the archival footage in and about the archipelago is in dire state. What little autochthonous archives we have are in danger. “There is politics behind why our archives are rotting. […] I understood that this isn’t a recent phenomenon. This didn’t begin to happen with La Junta. […] A country without history will repeat its history,” says Namerrow. Together, director and producer see the film as an invitation for members of the diaspora–and even for foreigners who know nothing of Puerto Rico–to hold space and witness this.
While I can attest that it is possible to survive watching Landfall by oneself, I highly recommend watching it in the company of others. Both the producer and the director specifically mentioned that showing this film to Boricuas was a central target throughout the making of it. The screenings are programmed to take place outdoors, in public plazas, etc. not just because of pandemic protocols, but to bring to mind the rescue of public spaces in Puerto Rico.
Looking back hurts –that’s the point of watching this film in community– because without looking back we cannot learn. Watch this film if you want to mourn, feel rage, feel relief, feel seen, and rekindled with the why. “We need many more films that speak about the Puerto Rican experience,” punctuates Aldarondo.
Vieques to Mayagüez: Landfall Hits the Streets
Thursday, July 8
Plaza de Castañer
Friday, July 9
Saturday, July 10
Plaza de Recreo Santiago R. Palmer
Sunday, July 11
Taller Comunidad-La Goyco
The screening will start at 7:00PM. There will be a healing and/or cultural event before and after.
If you cannot make it or aren’t in Puerto Rico, the documentary will be streaming via POV.org from July 12 to August 11.