Saul Landau y Haskell Wexler en Chiapas, México. Saul Landau and Haskell Wexler in Chiapas Mexico. Photo Courtesy Valerie Landau


Saul Landau, an acclaimed journalist, filmmaker, activist, and professor who covered social and political causes in the United States and abroad, especially in Latin America, died on Sept. 19 at his home in Alameda after a two year battle with bladder cancer. He was 77.

Landau was born in the Bronx, New York in 1936 and grew up longing to become a professional baseball player. Though that childhood dream wasn’t realized, he achieved success in a different field.

In 1960 he hitchhiked across Cuba following the revolution and eight years later was granted permission to shoot the documentary “Fidel.” The film offered a rare look into the life of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Landau would produce 40 films during his lifetime—including five more about Castro, that documented Cuba’s challenges and changes. Last August the country awarded Landau with the “Amistad” medal of friendship.

Though he was generally supportive of the Cuban government, Landau could also be critical—especially when it came to the issue of censorship. Before he died, he was producing and directing a film about about homophobia in the country.

“I try to be honest. I have a thesis and if I film materials or see material that contradict my thesis, I change it,” Landau told El Tecolote in a 2011 interview.

“If I come out of a good film, I feel like, ‘Wow my brain is working. I’m enriched.’ Some images will remain, some characters will remain in my mind and I’m always hoping that is true with my films, ”said Landau.

Landau won an Emmy and George Polk Award for the documentary “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,” which he directed with Jack Willis in 1980 and was filmed by influential cinematographer Haskell Wexler. The film exposed the cover-up of health hazards that resulted from a 1957 nuclear-bomb test in Utah.

Because of his unrepentant left-leaning views and criticisms, particularly regarding U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, Landau was the target of death-threats throughout his career.

Saul Landau. Photo Courtesy Valerie Landau

In 1976 his colleague Orlando Letelier, a Chilean economist and activist living the the US who opposed the Pinochet regime was assassinated in a car bombing in Washington, D.C.

“I’m always afraid. I have been since I was a little kid and I think that’s what you learn growing up on the streets of New York City. You be alert—or else,” Landau said. “I’m always afraid but fear doesn’t always necessarily always mean paralysis. I try not live my life in fear.”

In 2010, Landau made his last documentary film, “Will The Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” about the Cuban Five spies who were sent to the United States to infiltrate radical exile groups in Dade County, Fla. that were committing acts of terrorism in Cuba. The Cuban spies notified the FBI about what they found and were subsequently arrested with lengthy, unprecedented prison sentences. “Spies are usually just deported, because the U.S. has people in other countries doing the same thing, ” said Landau.

“For all of us who have had the honor and privilege to work closely with Saul, we will remember him as a sincere friend who knew how to transform his thought process into creative mediums for the struggle,” stated the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five in publicly released letter. “The greatest frustration for Saul during his last days was not being able to do more for the Five.

Besides making films and writing books and articles, Landau was also a professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Calif.,where he taught history and digital media.

With such immense accomplishments made throughout his career, El Tecolote asked Landau how he wanted to be remembered and he smiled answering with his well-known humor.

“Well, as a guy who always wanted to play Major League baseball—but I gave that up a few years ago—what can I say? I have great kids, I have great grandchildren, I have wonderful friends; those are the most important things. I have written some books, made some movies. I did a few things, I’ve tried to be an activist all my life—Capricorns don’t think about things like that though,” Landau said laughing.

He is survived by wife, Rebecca Switzer, his first wife, Nina Serrano, and his five children: Greg Landau, Valerie Landau, Carmen Landau, Julia Landau and Marie Landau.

He also is survived by seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.