As a country, Cuba has been alternately vilified and ostracized by the United States for the past five-plus decades, even long after its important role-player status at the center of Cold War politics has expired. The result is a Caribbean island with tremendous natural beauty that remains an enigma to almost every American who isn’t of Cuban or Latin-American descent, despite the fact that the tiny country is only 90 miles off the coast of Florida. As the possibility of the U.S. lifting its trade embargo looms, the first entry in the 29th season of PBS’ amazing Nature series examines one of the richest and most unusual natural environments of the hemisphere.
Written and directed by Doug Shultz, Cuba: The Accidental Eden is jointly a beautiful travelogue, nature film and glancing snapshot of the business of science in a more regimented society. Decades of relative isolation have allowed Cuba’s diverse landscapes and intriguing indigenous creatures to flourish, the island nation’s miles of untouched tropical forests, intact wetlands and unspoiled coastlines serving as an ideal incubator for a wide variety of unique lifeforms. As the largest of the Caribbean islands, Cuba boasts an extensive collection of the smallest animals of their kind — including the world’s smallest bat, smallest owl, and the tiny bee hummingbird, the smallest bird known to humankind. It’s also home to one of the most extensive coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere.
Along with just documenting the country’s rich natural beauty, though, Cuba: The Accidental Eden explores the critical conservation work of dedicated Cuban scientists, some of whom make less than $30 a month. Among the passionate conservationists is biologist Emma Palacios Lemagne, who’s researching how polymita, Cuba’s beautiful painted snails, evolve. Herpetologist Roberto Ramos, meanwhile, has the dangerous duty of tracking the rarest of crocs, the “jumping” Cuban crocodile. Another specialist, Leonardo Valido, monitors nesting sea turtles whose hatchlings’ chances of survival are one in a thousand. All of these biologists, and many more, are fantastic ambassadors for their country. If and when the travel embargo on Cuba is lifted, they stand to reap some of the benefits of a wildly increased eco-tourism sector.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Cuba: The Accidental Eden comes to DVD presented in 16×9 widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound audio package that more than adequately handles the relatively straightforward aural demands of this hour-long title. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. A few downloadable screensavers or some extended interview clips would have been nice but, alas, are not included here. To purchase the DVD, phone (800) PLAY-PBS, or merely click here. Or if Amazon and only Amazon is absolutely your thing, click here. Also, it’s worth noting that the title is available on Blu-ray too, in a stunning 1080i high definition transfer that only enhances the rich, colorful biodiversity on display. To purchase the Blu-ray, click here. A- (Movie) C+ (Disc)