- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 18, 2000

A chunk of the Cuban exile community that fascinated America during the Elian Gonzalez saga was back in Washington this week. This time, literary figures, scholars and musicians gathered at the National Press Club not for politics but for culture, the premiere of "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story."

The HBO-produced film, which airs tonight at 9, tells of the life of the Grammy-winning trumpet player. Feeling suffocated by the communist government of his Caribbean island home, Mr. Sandoval planned to escape Cuba as early as the 1970s. Love stopped him then, and not until 10 years ago did Mr. Sandoval, his wife and teen-age son settle in Miami.

"For Love or Country" is a poignant film — the fruit of work by a handful of prominent Cuban Americans, including Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan and Liz Balmaseda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald.

Mr. Garcia, who once also made his home in Miami, portrays Mr. Sandoval. The film opens with him playing the trumpet along with jazz maestro Dizzy Gillespie and other musicians in Athens in 1990. After the show ends, Mr. Gillespie, played by Charles S. Dutton, whisks the Cuban musician to the U.S. Embassy, where he seeks asylum.

The rest of the film is told from this scene. Mr. Sandoval tells an immigration official how he became a musician; met and fell in love with his wife, Marianela; of their marriage; and of life under Fidel Castro. The film unfolds beautifully, drawing the audience to Mr. Sandoval's strength and passion.

Mr. Sandoval wanted to play jazz and was repressed by the Cuban government, which wanted him to play only Cuban music — salsa and conga. The trumpeter rebelled in his own way and played a mixture of the genres. He was on the brink of defecting when he met Marianela, a government worker. Although the couple's politics were different, they married and settled at her home along with her teen-age son and her elderly father.

During the next dozen years, Marianela began to understand her husband's dislike of Mr. Castro's rule, and she finally agreed to leave the island. The poignancy and tension of the Sandovals' story, of the sacrifices and difficult choices they faced, is beautifully captured by director Joseph Sargent. The film is well worth seeing just to enjoy Mr. Sandoval's heartfelt music.

Mr. Sandoval was born in 1949 in Artemisa, a small town on the outskirts of Havana. He began studying classical trumpet at age 12. Today he is known around the world as an influential trumpeter who has been nominated for the Grammy Award 12 times and has won it three.

Since his arrival in the United States, Mr. Sandoval has performed with symphonies and orchestras around the world. He also is a professor at Florida International University and has been a visiting lecturer at several universities.

The audience seemed to enjoy the film Wednesday night and gave a standing ovation to Mr. Sandoval and his wife, who attended the event. The evening closed with some questions. (Not surprisingly for Washington, they mostly centered on politics.) Overall, the viewers went home having been deeply moved by the Sandovals' bravery and fervor for a better life.

WHAT: "For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story"WHERE: HBOWHEN: 9 tonight

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