The key to getting Cuban movies off of native soil and away from the auspices of the government is foreign money — which is also the key to bringing offshore filmmaking into Cuba.
Now that embassies have opened up in both the United States and Cuba, the Havana Film Festival observes that US, European and Latin American filmmakers and producers are taking interest in the country as a blooming hotspot for development and production. Per a recent Variety story, Spanish-German miniseries “Vientos de Cuaresma” is currently shooting in Havana, where the festival, since 1979, has sought to give voice to Latin American filmmakers.
Shooting US features in Cuba, however, requires some guerrilla maneuvering. Currently only US docs are permitted to shoot in Cuba, which is why one American director, Ben Chace, directed his Havana-set 2015 LA Film Fest world premiere “Sin Alas” as a 16mm hybrid of vérité documentary and narrative mystery. Chace shot his striking low-budget debut with local cast and crew, many of whom were more classically trained than the rookie filmmaker. The film, which should enjoy a nice festival run down the line, airs on Cuban television in the Fall.
Producer/director Bob Yari’s English-language Hemingway biopic “Papa,” now in post, also shot in Cuba and is now seeking US distribution after selling to foreign buyers on the Cannes market.
Hopefully, international interest in Cuba will boost the country’s own film industry, where native Cuban indies struggle to get their movies, quite literally, off the island and out to overseas audiences. You need someone in another country to negotiate and book film festivals, and worldwide sales representation. Without foreign cash, Cuban films are pretty much stuck in their home country. Another challenge is formatting, as DCP, which December’s budding Havana Film Festival now employs, only recently came to the island.