On the surface, Landfall is a film about the life of Puerto Rican people post-Hurricane Maria. But this latest documentary from director Cecilia Aldarondo, which premieres today, goes beyond what’s seen in the mainstream media following the tragic natural disaster that struck the island in 2017. Instead of the usual narratives, Aldarondo is spotlighting the strength and resilience in the Puerto Rican people, in her people.
Aldarondo spoke with Remezcla over the weekend from Puerto Rico, where she is presenting the film. “Puerto Ricans in the mainstream media were being painted as victims. There was this image, especially because people were focused on Donald Trump throwing paper towels, of the Puerto Rican people with their hands outstretched waiting for aid,” Aldarondo tells us in a Zoom interview. “What wasn’t being relayed in the press is that: In reality, the Puerto Rican people, through the total abandonment of the federal and local governments, in this moment of crisis, were coming together — and diaspora played a huge role in this.”
She continues, “Their local municipalities disappeared. Their mayors disappeared. Nobody was on the job. People had to go in with machetes to break [people] out of their homes — literally saving lives. Through that process, they were building an infrastructure of mutual aid, support, and community-led projects that are beautiful.”
To put it plainly, Aldarondo adds, “In moments of crisis, this is what comes out of the people of Puerto Rico.”
Viewers will see how Puerto Rico’s people took care of one another, broke into schools to shelter those without homes, and resourced necessities for their own. Then once the shock subsided and the reality of the government’s ambivalence took over, the people took over. This reality is a lesson that the Puerto Rican people have learned from past experiences.
Aldarondo acknowledges the complicated political issues that have plagued the Puerto Rican people. It’s one of the many themes in Landfall. She hopes the film helps connect the dots for people with respect to the history of Puerto Rico and their experiences with the United States dating back decades. A mini-history lesson is provided to viewers to give context to the perspective of the Puerto Rican people.
As the saying goes, “Those who do not learn their history are doomed to repeat it.” That is not a mistake the Puerto Rican people have been willing to make.
In the years following Hurricane Maria, growing frustration empowered the Puerto Rican people to fight for change, whether against poverty, LGBTQ+ rights, or government corruption. In 2019, an island-wide strike led to the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and senior members of his government, which is covered in the documentary.
Today, as Aldarondo brings her film to towns all over the island, she says the damage from Maria is still evident. “It is a state of emergency. I am telling you that I am driving through town by town, and you go through these beautiful areas, and it makes me want to cry,” says Aldarondo. They are like ghost towns. The centers, all the businesses closed, no local owners, [and] local schools closed everywhere. It is a dire situation.”
She urges people to see this documentary as a call to action. “My request is that people who have ties to Puerto Rico do their homework and connect with initiatives both in Puerto Rico and in the diaspora that resonate with them. It’s hard. We all have millions of things going on. It’s a trying time. But I think that Puerto Rico both needs our attention while they also set an example for the world.”
Landfall was nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. It is a co-production of POV and ITVS, in association with Latino Public Broadcasting. It will premiere Monday, July 12 on PBS at 10 p.m. ET. It will also be available on pov.org for one month.