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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home