How to make a movie out of a crisis

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The Independent Online

"I'll tell you the difference between Britain and America," says Joey Wunderkind, ace American Hollywood expert. "The difference between Britain and America is that when you get a great story in Britain, like the Norfolk farmer who shot the burglar, you think it's all about lawsuits. Here in America, when we get a great story like the Cuban boy, we know we've got a blockbuster movie on our hands. Is anyone in Britain making a film about farmers killing intruders? I don't think so. Here in the US, there are at least four companies to my certain knowledge working on a movie about Elian Gonzalez. They may all be rubbish, but the great thing is that it's being done."

Joey Wunderkind thinks he knows a lot about films but this time he's wrong. There aren't four films being made about Elian Gonzalez. There are six. (Of course, that doesn't count the official Cuban film being made about the whole thing, where right now they are editing down the three-hour speech made by Fidel Castro at the weekend to allow some space for Elian's story as well...)

The first one being made is a comedy starring Macaulay Culkin, the boy who starred in Home Alone and all those other films about boys separated from their families, and fending for themselves. In this version Culkin plays Elian as a wacky but loveable Cuban boy who gets out of Cuba on the wrong boat, loses sight of his parents and ends up alone in Miami where singlehanded he wrongfoots the Cuban emigres, the FBI and the Mafia.

"Yeah, we're leaving out all that stuff about his mother being drowned and his father going through the courts," says director Peter Stroganoff. "It doesn't fit too well with the story as we see it. Nor does the fact that Culkin is a lot older now, but what the hell - we reckon there's enough juice in one more Home Alone story."

Away from Home Alone in Miami is the tentative title of that one, while Oliver Stone's film will be called Battle For Miami. Stone's thesis in his film is that not all the Cubans living in Miami are genuine exiles. Many of them are clandestine freedom-fighters trained by Castro to rise up at a given moment and try to take over America.

"It's the Bay of Pigs story in reverse," says Stone. "I see Miami becoming a battleground which Castro hopes to turn into a beach head for his victorious invading troops. I don't normally film historical battles before they've happened, but this seemed too good a chance to miss."

Will Elian appear in the story too?

"In every battle there must be some casualties," says Stone, tight-lipped. "That's the lesson of life. So Elian has been written out of the film."

Not only the war version, also the animated kids version. Boystory 3 is a special-effects bonanza in which little Elian is befriended at sea by an inflated rubber tyre and other speaking flotsam which look after the little boy found floating in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to them, Elian is rescued from the sea by a fishing boat, but when he comes to Miami nobody can work out why he is so distressed. They assume it's because he misses his father. Wrong! He is pining for the rubber tyre, the fish float, the plank and the friendly shark who all kept him going and who now come to Miami in the dead of night to rescue him.

But wasn't it the FBI who snatched him from his captors?

"No," says director Joe Pesto. "Not in this version. It was the old rubber tyre and his friends. You go and make a version with the FBI as heroes - you see how many people see your movie."

Among the other versions of the Elian story in progress are Elian's Ashes, The Boy from Havana - an unusual attempt at a musical version - and an as yet unnamed production by Kenneth Branagh which aims to retell the whole story in Shakespearean terms. "People ask me what Shakespeare has got to do with Cuba and Miami," says Branagh, "and I say to them - Do you know how many Shakespeare plots start with people being washed up on foreign shores, without a pair of clean underpants, not knowing where they are? It's a thing Shakespeare knew a lot about. He was ahead of the game."

Will Wunderkind be wrong and will Elian's story lead to an Oscar for Britain after all? Stranger things have happened. And they usually happen in America.