17 Oct Melinda Raebyne, the 2023 Free Speech Award Winner, Helps the Cuban People Scream for Freedom
Melinda Raebyne has a passion for telling a hero’s story and showcasing the resiliency of the human spirit.
While many people are attracted to the glitzy and glamorous way acting and directing is depicted in Hollywood, Melinda, a former actor and self-taught director, has found a much deeper purpose and calling in life through these art forms.
“After almost ten years of acting in other people’s films, I decided to make my own; films that speak from my heart, told through the voices of society’s invisible,” she said. “My films tend to examine important social topics with the hopes of better connecting us with one another, giving a voice to those who are typically forgotten in our society. I believe that through understanding, compassion is possible and with compassion, great change can happen.”
Our world is so vast and our lives are so busy that it’s sometimes easy to lose touch with what is going on around the world. But when Melinda discovered the deplorable and oppressive conditions the people of Cuba were living under, she knew she had to, as she says, get everyone to “move away from being me-centric to us-centric.”
That is how Ellos Gritan Libertad (They Scream Freedom) began. The powerful film had such a visual and heartwrenching impact on viewers that it was voted as the Free Speech Film Festival’s 2023 Free Speech Award winner. Although it’s a dark film, Melinda said that she saw something profoundly positive occur among the Cuban people while making the film.
“I saw heroes rise up from everyday people – from an 80-year-old grandmother who had experienced life in Cuba before the Revolution and after, to an 11-year-old girl whose dad had been missing since participating in a peaceful protest, and to everyone in between – all crying out for the same thing: LIBERTAD (FREEDOM),” she said. “I questioned myself throughout making this film if I would have the courage to do what they did. Within each story I shared in Ellos Gritan Libertad, I was seeing how when you repress a soul so much, there’s strength that rises within. They’d rather die by speaking up than allow their soul one more day of suffocation. It is people like them that are my heroes, who inspire me to continue to make the films I make.”
When asked why she decided to make a film on this topic, Melinda had a simple answer: “How could I not tell this story?”. She went on to say that she was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” She was also struck by how easily what was happening to the Cuban people could happen to others in any country where the rights of the people are removed.
Ultimately, she said making Ellos Gritan Libertad was her way of giving that freedom back to the people of Cuba and that she was inspired by the risks they took to speak out.
“I was seeing hundreds, thousands of Cubans crying out for help on our social media platforms. It was their last desperate attempt. By doing this they were putting their lives in great danger. I had this unyielding desire to tell their story. It’s important that the world see what was going on in Cuba through the voices and eyes of her people aside from the ones in government,” she said. “The world needs to see the inhuman conditions that a lot of Cubans live daily with the hope that we ask, ‘What can I do to help?’. We have to stop participating in a me-focused society and understand we are responsible for the well-being of the whole of society.”
Melinda believes the power of free speech is a necessity in our world and that everyone should have the right to speak up and question what they hear. She also feels that with the power of free speech comes a great responsibility to help those who need to express their voice.
“We must be encouraged to think for ourselves and not be told what to think. Imagine a world where we all have the equal right to free speech. Imagine the free flow of ideas that can enrich the lives of all of us; ideas discussed openly that could question, enhance, challenge how we look at things,” she said. “For those of us who have the privilege of free speech, we must use it to not only advocate, rise up and speak up for ourselves but for those who can’t. It should be a burning desire that isn’t quenched until we see this right given to all. To silence an individual is to kill their soul one unspoken word at a time. With great power comes great responsibility. We must act on this responsibility.”
Melinda said she decided to submit her film to the Free Speech Film Festival because she knew she could connect with a world of people who share her beliefs on the value of free speech. She encourages others to submit their films and give a voice to those who have none.
“I want this documentary to have the opportunity to be seen by those who understand the importance of free speech and understand the bravery of those who went out to the streets in Cuba to peacefully protest this right. My ultimate hope is that this film will be seen by those who have the power to help those in Cuba to experience the life they are crying out for,” she said. “Allow your film to be an instrument that inspires and lift up the voices that have been silenced too long by submitting it to the Free Speech Film Festival. When your film has the opportunity to be seen by those of like minds and hearts, your film can spark the possibility of ‘what if’s’.”
As far as her future as a filmmaker, Melinda said that as long as there are stories out there to be told, she plans to not only be a part of that storytelling but also make sure that audiences everywhere see and hear these stories. She’s currently working on two documentaries. The first is called You Are Our Sunshine and looks at COVID through the eyes of kids as they share their wisdom on the pandemic. The second is an environmental documentary exploring the traditional canoe journey of the Native communities in the Pacific Northwest, along with their history to the land and being the protectors of the Salish Sea.
For more about Melinda and her work, visit https://www.melindaraebynefilms.com/.