Filmmaker, Musician, Sound Engineer, Keyboardist. He worked with Sonny & Cher, Spanky And Our Gang, The Hot Links, The Dusters, and Pamela Rose. Also a noted documentary filmmaker, he won several awards, including the 1990 Emmy Award for an Outstanding Individual Achievment. He also worked for the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour covering stories in the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Korea, Japan, Cambodia, and Vietnam, from 1990 to 1996. His films include, “La Confianza Perdida” (1999), “Food For Our Future” (1999), “I Will Make It” (1998), “In Good Hands” (1993), “3 Sambistas” (1993), “Na Bolom: House Of The Jaguar” (1991), and “Five Walnuts” (1986). At the time of his death in a car accident, he was working on the film, “Holy Land: Common Ground” (2003).
I met Jaime Kibben in Cuba; he had visited before we met and he was acquainted with my then future father-in-law who worked for the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and was fully fluent in English; at the time Jaime was shooting his documentary “The Greening of Cuba”; my future father-in-law invited him and a friend to his place for dinner and they spent a delicious evening reminiscing some of the famous hits of the 60’s, Jaime even played some well known Beatles’ songs in the old out-of-key family piano. For some reason neither my fiancée nor myself were present. Jaime returned to Cuba shortly after and he took a big book with most of the songs by Lennon and McCartney as a gift for the family, this time he stayed in the little room upstairs that the family was renting as a way to survive the hardships of life in Cuba. It was then when both my fiancée and I met him.
I remember clearly that almost the first thing Jaime told us was that he did not share the policies of his country towards Cuba and that he was working to try to find a way to get our two countries closer together, both of us took a liking to him right away and he seemed very pleased to meet us, we were both fluent in English and that may have been a factor too; he spent the days out working and we came to the point of missing his presence when he wasn’t at home for dinner; one afternoon we were sitting around the kitchen table in which there was a Spanish magazine opened right in a page in which a picture of HIV positive Cubans behind the gates to Los Cocos Estate, a place where they had been forcibly confined by the Cuban government in an attempt to stop the spreading of the disease, it stood out that most of those in the picture were very effeminate gay men and I asked Jaime what he thought of gay people, he answered by asking me what I thought about blue-eyed people, he took me by surprise, he went on to ask me what I thought about black-haired tall people, what I thought about blond people, all of his questions were unexpected; he smiled and I shrugged while I smiled back at him, he told us that one of his relatives was a lesbian and that that did not mean anything to him.
My fiancée and I had been struggling with my gender issue for some time, my whole life had been very confusing and I had this fascination for women’s clothes and everything feminine, then I thought I was a fetishist transvestite but there was no way to be sure because even when I have always been an avid reader there is no easy way to access this kind of information in Cuba as it is with any other. After the conversation in the kitchen we decided to tell Jaime and to ask him to help us.
His reaction was incredible, he was very supportive and we talked about it all for probably two hours; I asked him for some items impossible to get in Cuba and he agreed to bring them over in his next trip. He also gave me a phone number in Havana; I was to call a Katherine Murphy who was supposed to help me.
I called Ms. Murphy and her Spanish was so perfect that I doubted for a second I was talking to the right person, then I spoke in English and when she did the same I realized that what I thought impossible was possible, yes, a native English speaker can speak Cuban Spanish incredibly well. Ms. Murphy was also very supportive and she made arrangements for both my girlfriend and I to go see a sexologist which we did.
The sexologist was not very helpful at the beginning as I was not really able to make myself clear regarding most of my problem, besides, she also seemed to lack information on gender issues.
Jaime returned to Cuba in December 1995, he exhibited his “The Greening of the Cuba” documentary in one of downtown Havana cinemas, I invited some friends; Estela Bravo, an American well-known in Cuba, who lives there and was very close to Fidel Castro attended, she was very interested in the documentary and invited Jaime for dinner the next day.
On this visit Jaime brought the cherished items; a blond wig and a pair of high heels and he added false eyelashes, make up and a couple of magazines about the trans community in San Francisco. One of his good friends there had given him a hand to choose the right ones, and they were. It was the happiest day of my entire life. He told my fiancée and me to meet him at the National Hotel gardens and we were to take our backpacks empty, there, a few steps away from the crowd of journalists surrounding Klaus Maria Brandauer ,Francis Ford Coppola and Gabriel Garcia Marquez Jaime was having the immense satisfaction to be of help to a couple of somewhat confused young people, then we went for lunch in a nearby café in which everything was paid for in U.S. dollars, he paid, of course. It wasn’t up to our possibilities to do it. He had such a look of satisfaction! A few days later he made some shots and pictures of me while crossdressing at some friends’ place.
A few weeks later Jaime sent with Katherine Murphy quite a bit of literature on transgender subjects, this time he had contacted a few people and organizations and the result was astonishing; I was dumbfounded to discover that I was not alone in the world and that there was so much to learn about it all. I was thanks to all this literature that I was able to come to terms with my sexuality and to determine that I was in fact a transsexual. It was a scary discovery that eventually and sadly led to the end of my relationship with my fiancée and the beginning of my soul-searching and the full realization of who I was. I went for professional help and I was diagnosed as transsexual after a two-year follow up by a multidisciplinary team that unfortunately couldn’t do much about my problem going forward.
I kept writing letters to Jaime telling him about how things were going and I also had his full support, while in Cuba he introduced me to a couple of American lesbians whom I helped communicate with another couple of Cuban lesbians, that was the beginning of a long lasting friendship with one of them who has also been a very supportive friend and who has been very encouraging all along.
He returned to Cuba with his lovely wife in late 1996, she stayed for a week and the following week I worked for Jaime as a location and production coordinator in a project aimed at paving the way for finding common ground between our two countries, it was a crazy week in which we slept little and worked like I had never before, we interviewed lots of well-known personalities as well as the ordinary man on the street, I understand that for lack of funding the project was abandoned but there is quite valuable footage that shouldn’t be just put in an archive.
Jaime was again in Cuba in 1999 or 2000, this time I didn’t see him but a letter that someone slipped under my door for him said that he was involved in something potentially dangerous and that for that reason he had preferred not to contact me and he apologized for it.
One of my first calls when I left Cuba was for Jaime, he was happy I was giving steps towards the fulfillment of my dream and he sent me pictures of his daughter. He was in love with her and the events of 9/11 had depressed him quite a bit as he was worried about the world he was leaving for her.
Jaime died in a car accident while on assignment in Israel. His passing what a hard blow as I had this fantasy to get together with him and his family in San Francisco one day.
I will miss my friend Jaime Kibben, I know that I will still go to San Francisco and I will visit his tomb, I find consolation thinking that he lived a full life and that he died doing what he loved most. Working with him was a privilege, I have never worked with a person so focused on what he was doing that he was oblivious of everything else. By his side I met some celebrities that were not worth a tenth of what he was, he said to me once that other peoples’ fame didn’t impress him much, I learned that from him; the true heroes of life do not appear in the front covers of magazines. The space he left behind cannot be filled with anything.