Resulting in nearly $100 billion in property damages and losses, Hurricane Maria devastated several Caribbean islands during a two-week span in September 2017, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in recorded history. Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, was especially hard hit by the Category 4 storm system, having already succumbed to a public debt crisis that was part of a decade-long recession resulting in mass unemployment and increased poverty. In the three years that have elapsed since that catastrophe, the archipelago’s culturally mixed but largely Spanish-speaking population has rebuilt much of what was lost, albeit without the assistance or aid that was promised to the thousands of working-class families who still lack basic resources/utilities. Even as the government, led by Ricardo Rosselló, was scaling back on essential social services (prompted by a U.S.-mandated austerity program designed to offset the deficit), a flurry of investment activity highlighted how exploitable that area is from the vantage of cryptocurrency entrepreneurs, who — as documented in Cecilia Aldarondo’s eye-opening film Landfall — have recently descended on Puerto Rico like vultures. As a member of the Puerto Rican diaspora, the director returns to her family’s birthplace and witnesses firsthand how American opportunists and super-rich venture capitalists are taking advantage of the dire situation in this paradisical tax haven, in sometimes confrontational scenes that draw a comparison between the colonial past and a neocolonial present that, driven by disaster tourism, is equally devastating to local residents. But she also celebrates the resiliency needed to weather a corrupt administration, institutional neglect, and infrastructural failure, highlighting community-based efforts to oust Rosselló from office and start anew. Working with cinematographer Pablo Alvarez-Mesa, the filmmaker lets the natural beauty of her surroundings speak for itself but does not reduce Puerto Rico to the kind of picture-perfect postcard that colors many outsiders’ touristic perception of the islands. Instead, with tremendous respect and compassion, Aldarondo focuses on the strength and solidarity of individuals who work day-by-day toward a common cause that is greater than any one person.
– David Scott Diffrient
English and Spanish with English subtitles