Saul Landau: Politically committed film-maker

 

Saul Landau was a writer and Emmy Award-winning documentary film-maker whose work gave an unprecedented glimpse into Fidel Castro's Cuba and who co-wrote a riveting account of a Washington assassination linked to Augusto Pinochet. Part scholar, part journalist, part activist, Landau made more than 30 films and collaborated on more than a dozen books with an unabashed left-of-centre viewpoint. His films offered inside views of Castro's Cuba, Chile under Salvador Allende and Mexico during guerrilla uprisings in the 1990s.

"I think I'm objective, but I'm not detached," he said. "All my films try to teach people without preaching too hard... That's why I make films... to raise people's consciousness in one way or another." He first made a splash in 1968 with his documentary Fidel, which followed Castro on a week-long journey through the Cuban countryside. Although some dismissed it as propaganda, the film offered a view of Castro as a man of the people, chatting with villagers and striking out during an impromptu baseball game.

Landau made documentaries about Iraq, Syria, Angola and Jamaica, but his most acclaimed film was set in the US. Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1979), which Landau made with the Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, examined the US government's attempts to suppress information about the harmful effects of nuclear radiation from open-air explosions in western states in the 1950s. It contained compelling interviews with Jacobs, a dying journalist who believed his cancer was caused by his exposure to fall-out from a 1957 test blast in Utah. Landau and his collaborators won an Emmy Award for best documentary. "It had a big impact on slowing the spread of and eventually stopping the construction of nuclear power plants," said John Cavanagh, director of Washington's Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank of which Landau was a board member.

In 1976, two of Landau's associates at the Institute, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, were killed in a car bomb in Washington. Letelier was Chile's Ambassador to Washington when Allende was overthrown during the 1973 coup, Moffit his assistant. Landau's 1980 book Assassination on Embassy Row linked the killings to the Pinochet regime.

Landau went on to help investigate human rights abuses in Chile in the 1970s. His films and political statements led to frequent death threats, particularly while he was investigating the Letelier and Moffitt murders.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he received a master's in history, he began his political activism as a student by working in an effort to recall the red-baiting senator, Joseph McCarthy. He made his first visit to Cuba in 1960 as a researcher for the sociologist C Wright Mills.

During the early 1960s he was a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which held that Castro's regime was unfairly maligned by the US government and the news media. He made six films about the island nation, including The Uncompromising Revolution (1990). Castro's "beard is greyer," the film noted, "but his charisma remains as strong as ever." Detractors said Landau had gone from objectivity to sycophancy,but Landau, who had a lifelong friendship with Castro and other Cuban leaders, made no apologies. "I found Fidel a sympathetic figure and a hell of a good actor," he said in 1982. "You have 999 anti-Castro films. Why don't you run one pro-Castro film?"

From 1972 until the early 1990s, Landau lived in Washington and was on the faculty of American University. In more recent years, he taught literature, film and foreign policy at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. His books included historical and political studies and a detective novel, Stark in the Bronx, published shortly before his death.

Matt Schudel, Washington Post

Saul Irwin Landau, film-maker: born New York 15 January 1936; married firstly Nina Serrano (marriage dissolved; one daughter, one son), secondly Rebecca Switzer (three daughters); died Alameda, California 9 September 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?