Elian (Amazon Prime)
Early in Elian, a new Amazon documentary about the Cuban refugee who took America by storm in the late 1990s, we meet a now grown, handsome and well-spoken Elian Gonzalez — a sharp contrast to the cute, almost mute boy we remember so vividly. He looks directly at us and tells us that what happened to him was real, it wasn’t a movie. An hour and a half later, after we have gone on the journey of his entire experience from Cuba to America and back to Cuba, he tells us that his story hasn’t been told yet. Both of these are true, and at the end of the film we haven’t really heard Elian’s story. That is the point, though; Elian Gonzalez is, in many ways, still a supporting character in his own story.
Elian brings in most every player from every side of the saga and gives them equal time to talk: the fishermen who found him floating in the water, his American family who took him to their home, his Cuban father who fought to bring him back to his home, plus all of the legal experts and advocates who got involved in the fight. This isn’t one boy’s story, but the story of how one boy gets pulled into a frenzy by all the adults trying to do what is best for him. Their stories illuminate each other but don’t always clarify the story. Often times, filmmakers Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell will put two clips together of two figures directly contradicting each other. Still to this day, each side of the story cannot agree on what is factually correct and what is not. By the end of the film, I was just as confused as I was twenty years ago about what was right for this little boy and what wasn’t. And that is the point. This is not an easy topic, and no answer should be easy.
Long Shot (Netflix)
The irony of the title Long Shot, a new Netflix documentary from Jacob LaMendola, is that the film is brief; if this story were to become a Law & Order episode, it would have a longer running time than the documentary. LaMendola knows what his story needs and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Long Shot tells the story of Juan Catalan, who was brought to trial for the murder of a 16-year-old girl that he is adamant that he didn’t commit. He couldn’t have committed it because he was at the Dodgers game that night. Since he has no proof of his attendance, however, his alibi means nothing. Luckily, he has a lawyer who is persistence personified, and tracks down the raw footage of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode that happened to be filming at the stadium that day. Low and behold, there are Catalan and his daughter, captured three separate times on time-stamped video tape.
There isn’t anything revolutionary about Long Shot, but the story is so intriguing — even if you know the ending, how they get there is still riveting to uncover — that you don’t need more. This is a great true crime story from beginning to end. LaMendola gets a little too carried away at times with the flourishes, and an appearance by Curb star Larry David as a talking head feels inorganic and more like a marketing tool than a necessary part of the story. In the end, though, this is a gripping celebration of our legal system and what happens when you truly fight for what you believe is right.