Hollywood and Havana inch closer with new Cuba regulations
By Christine Armario, The Associated Press
POSTED: 02/15/15, 12:03 AM EST
LOS ANGELES >> Fermin Rojas was thick into filming his documentary on
Cuban artists in Havana when a small wire connecting a camera to a
monitor snapped. There was no BestBuy nearby or FedEx delivery to
quickly ship a replacement to the Cuban capital.
“It took us three days to find another,” the Cuban-born U.S. filmmaker
For years, a small contingent of U.S. directors and producers has
managed to legally travel and film in Cuba despite the U.S. embargo
against the country, navigating a maze of ever-changing U.S. Treasury
Department regulations to get approval. Once in Cuba, they’ve been bound
to working with just the few cameras and equipment they are able to
bring and a tight cash-only budget with no access to an ATM.
Under President Barack Obama’s new regulations, which went into effect
this month, documentary filmmakers will no longer need to apply for
permission to travel to Cuba from the U.S. government.
The process of filming should be simpler as well: The ban prohibiting
U.S. banks and credit card companies from operating on the island and
the cap on daily expenses have been lifted. American Express Co. and
MasterCard have announced plans to start doing business in Cuba.
And down the line, American companies could help boost the island’s
Internet and communication systems.
The eased trade and travel measures are expected to increase the number
of U.S. filmmakers shooting on the island. However, a major Hollywood
production still appears a distant prospect.
While documentary filmmaking is permitted, travel for feature-length
commercial films is not specifically authorized. Even if it were, there
remain a number of barriers: The U.S. embargo is still in place and
Cuba’s tightly-controlled economy is stagnant.
“It’s still not an open door,” said Bill Martinez, a California-based
attorney who has helped U.S. filmmakers travel to Cuba.
Hollywood and Havana’s relationship dates back to the 1920s, when the
Fox Film Corporation filmed scenes for its “Movietone Follies” in Cuba.
Despite decades of sour U.S.-Cuba relations, many celebrities have been
unafraid to flaunt their affection for the island: Beyonce and Jay-Z
notoriously visited Cuba — legally — to celebrate their anniversary in
2013. Sean Penn visited and interviewed Raul Castro in 2008.
Filming in Cuba, however, has remained a vexing odyssey.
To produce his film “Alumbrones,” examining the work and life of 12
Cuban artists, Rojas and director Bruce Donnelly contracted a Canadian
production company to help obtain a Cuban government film permit. The
post-production work was done in Brazil.
Alysa Nahmias, the director of “Unfinished Spaces,” an award-winning
documentary on Cuba’s revolutionary National Arts Schools, said it took
10 years to finish her film working on a cash-only budget on the island.
Bob Yari, who filmed a feature-length Ernest Hemingway biopic “Papa” on
the island last year, said it was hard to do basic tasks like pay crew
“I think those things are going to be much simpler now,” he said.
A number of new works filmed in Cuba are now underway: Actor Matt Dillon
is making a film on Afro-Cuban music. The Discovery Channel is filming
“Cuban Chrome,” which will follow Cuban car mechanics trying to keep
their classic American cars on the road. Rojas is working on a second
documentary, chronicling the life and work of a gay men’s jazz ensemble
he founded in Havana.
The filmmaking bubble comes at a time when Cuba’s independent film
community is thriving despite limited access to digital technology. Film
will be an important channel to share stories and bridge a five-decade
divide, said Catherine Murphy, a producer for Dillon’s documentary.
“That’s what’s beautiful about documentaries,” said Murphy, who spent
eight years producing the documentary “Maestra” on the women teachers
behind Cuba’s 1961 National Literacy Campaign. “The power of the human
There are economic motives for Hollywood to return to Havana as well —
it’s cost effective. Cuba offers low labor and material fees.
And aside from a lush tropical landscape, Cuba offers something that
hasn’t changed much since the last time Hollywood had a significant
presence in Havana: Locations that still look like the 1950s.
Source: Hollywood and Havana inch closer with new Cuba regulations –