Life imitates art as Cuban actors go missing en route to US festival

Actors believed to have disappeared in Miami in the hope of winning political asylum

Two Cuban stars of a new British-made film about asylum-seekers fleeing their homeland for a better life in the United States have vanished while travelling from Havana to New York for the Tribeca Film Festival.

In a life-imitating-art twist that will embarrass the Communist regime on the island, Javier Núñez Florián and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre, both 20, are thought to have skipped a connecting flight in Miami last Wednesday and melted into the city in the hope of winning political asylum.

Yesterday, their exact whereabouts were unknown.

Both actors, who had no previous experience, were cast by Lucy Mulloy, a British director who also wrote the screenplay, in her first feature film, Una Noche, which tells the story of three young Cubans who defect to the United States not by plane but across the sea on a homemade raft. When the film was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday, only one of three actors in the main roles, Dariel Arrechada, also 20, showed up.

The apparent defection of the young pair flummoxed Ms Mulloy, who studied film in New York.

"I really was thinking that they were going to come here and enjoy the festival, and I thought they would love to participate in it," she told the Huffington Post website. "They made a decision, I guess. I just hope they are safe and well." She said she was taken by surprise.

"I mean, they had all of their family there and it's surprising. But things can be difficult in Cuba. There's an embargo and so there's a lot of challenges for people living in Cuba."

There has been a long history of Cubans with special talents, including artists, dancers and athletes, going overseas after being granted special visas, notably to the United States, and then not returning home.

However, the island has seen early flickers of reform under President Raúl Castro who took over from his ailing brother, Fidel, five years ago.

For Mr Arrechada, who will return to Cuba as planned when his visa expires this week, there is no anger over his being ditched by his co-stars. "That's their choice, you know?" he said.

"That's their way of thinking. No one is forced to stay. And no one is forced to go back. If you want to stay in the United States, I think, well, stay. If you want to go back, go back. Not all of us have to stay and not all of us have to go back. It's about what you want to do with your life."

The State Department said it knew of the reports of the actors' disappearance. Meanwhile the US Immigration service could not confirm whether they had yet filed for asylum.

Under US law they have one year after entering the country to do so. "We can't say for sure what the status of these guys are," Katie Tichacek Kaplan told ABC News.

"There are a number of things they could be thinking. We just don't know what their plans are."