Cuban stars of film screening at Tribeca fest may have defected

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In a case of life apparently imitating art, two stars of a fictional movie about Cubans defecting to the United States have disappeared in Miami en route to the Tribeca Film Festival, and may themselves be seeking to defect.

Javier Nunez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, the 20-year-old stars of the Havana-set drama ‘Una Noche’ (One Night), disappeared on a layover in Miami last Wednesday as they were traveling from Havana to New York. They have not been heard from since. The filmmakers, including New York-based director Lucy Mulloy, believe the two are in hiding and do not wish to return to Cuba.


Havana-based producer Sandy Perez Aguila had been traveling from Cuba with the pair as well as with a third actor from the film, Dariel Arrechada. Aguila said he and Arrechada had agreed to briefly separate from Florian and De la Torre in the Miami airport, with the latter two saying they wanted to browse some shops and would meet up with the producer at the gate for their New York flight. That was the last time Aguila saw the pair.

When the actors didn’t turn up at the gate, Aguila went to police at the Miami airport, who told him that they could not investigate until the duo was missing for at least 24 hours. With no other option, he and Arrechaga boarded the plane and flew to New York.

Upon arrival, the producer opened the checked luggage belonging to Florian and De la Torre and found the suitcases were empty, suggesting a premeditated plan to stay in the United States.

‘It was very strange,’ Aguila said in an interview Monday. ‘We had no conversation [about defection] on the plane from Havana or at any other time. They were just excited to come to New York for the premiere.’ He noted that the pair had traveled to the Berlin Film Festival in February for a screening there and had returned to Havana without incident.

Mulloy, who attended the premiere on Thursday without her two main actors, was able to reach Florian’s mother in Havana several days later. (Communication with people in Cuba can often be delayed because few people have mobile phones.) The actor’s mother told Mulloy she had not heard from her son since he left for the Havana airport. She also told Mulloy that she had no family in Miami but that she believed De la Torre had relatives there, and that it was conceivable the pair could be hiding with them.

‘Una Noche’ centers on three young Cubans who, frustrated by their lack of prospects in the Communist country, plot to escape Havana to Miami by homemade raft; Florian and De la Torre play a brother and sister who are particularly close. Mulloy shot the film in 2011 after several years spent researching the subject in Havana and abroad. She had the full cooperation of the Cuban government, which even sent diplomats to the Berlin Film Festival screening.

The movie ends (spoiler alert; please skip ahead to the next paragraph if you’d prefer not to know) on an unhappy note, however, as Florian’s character is presumed dead after a shark attack while the other two wash back up, severely traumatized, on Cuban shores.

Mulloy said she was surprised to learn of the pair’s disappearance. ‘They were excited to be actors in Cuba; I worked with them for months and had no idea they were thinking about this,’ she said.

Mulloy said she last spoke to the performers -- who had never acted before this film -- when their U.S. travel visas had come through. ‘They were just excited to be coming to New York,’ she said.

On Monday the film festival released a statement saying that, ‘Only Dariel Arrechada attended the Tribeca Film Festival premiere screening of ‘Una Noche’ on Thursday, April 19. We have not had any contact with Anailin de la Rua de la Torre or with Javier Nunez Florian.’

Numerous Cuban actors and sports stars have over the years defected to the U.S. In 1995, the Clinton administration signed legislation that provided for the ‘wet foot-dry foot’ policy, which allows any Cuban citizen who arrives in this country by air or arrives on land by boat to remain in the country and seek residency a year later; those caught at sea are repatriated to Cuba or sent to a third country.

Asked if the actors’ dispositions suggested the type of personalities who would defect, Mulloy said she was still puzzling through it.

‘They are quite whimsical and I can see how they’d decide to do something like this,’ said the director. ‘But this is also an important life decision, and no one in Cuba takes it lightly,’ she said.

The director said that because of the apparent defection, plans for a sequel to the film with the actors in Cuba appear to be moot now. ‘But of course what really matters is that they’re OK,’ she said, adding: ‘I just hope someone hears from them soon.’


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-- Steven Zeitchik in New York