Debut of first Hollywood film shot in Cuba in decades

Posted: 13-May-16 15:45

As Hollywood turns its attention toward Cuba, one American filmmaker is already enjoying the attention gained from a production he wrapped up well in advance of other production houses entering the country. Bob Yari's ground-breaking film is now showing in U.S. theatres. Meanwhile, others are quickly following suit as a half-century old embargo against Cuba is gradually loosened.

Debut of first Hollywood film shot in Cuba in decades

Just as some of Hollywood’s biggest production houses set their sights on Cuba, an American filmmaker is basking in the debut of his Cuban-shot film, now premiering in U.S. theatres, several months after its first screening in Havana during the prestigious Havana Film Festival.

As described in an LA Times article by writer Rebecca Keegan, the film “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” was shot in Cuba back in 2014, well before the U.S. and Cuba began the process of normalising diplomatic relations, and before President Obama asked Congress to lift the centuries-old embargo against the country.

Keegan writes that the film, directed by Bob Yari, debuted in U.S. theatres last month but the project has been in the works for some time. Yari travelled to Cuba in 2014, at the time making his project the first Hollywood production to film in the country since 1959. Set in the 1950s, the film tells the story of a journalist befriending American novelist Ernest Hemingway, surrounded by the escalation of the Cuban revolution.

The author notes that Yari received permission at the time to shoot the film in Cuba due to a State Department loophole allowing for fact-based projects. The filmmaker adds that the Cuban government did not try to censor scenes from his movie and fully cooperated with the production.

In the article, the author writes that Yari felt Cuba’s biggest motivation was Hemingway himself, a hero to the Cuban people.

“He’s a wonderful bridge between the two countries. They loved the idea of a Hemingway film set around his time in Cuba.”

The LA Times article does point out there were some issues to overcome in shooting a film in Cuba in 2014. The author writes that Yari dealt with frozen assets by U.S. and Latin American banks reacting to possible U.S. government enforcement of the embargo. In addition, she points out, there was a discrepancy in the work styles of Cuban and American film crews, the Cubans being more relaxed in dealing with tight filming schedules than their U.S. counterparts. Film crews also had to get used to a different level of comfort, with a lack of air-conditioned trailers or stocked catering trucks.

Even so, the article divulges that Yari was able to take advantage of things like the large variety of 1950s cars still roaming Cuban roads and the landscape that remains relatively untouched by modern signs and advertisements. Keegan explains, too, that the filmmaker shot almost the entire movie in Cuba, including Hemingway’s former home at Finca Vigia on the outskirts of Havana and that he found most spectators friendly to the Americans.

The author acknowledges the film could very well be just the beginning for American filmmakers. She mentions “Fast and the Furious 8” began shooting scenes in Cuba recently and “House of Lies”, a Showtime production, shot in the country earlier this year. As well, she says Yari tells her he has been getting calls from other American filmmakers also interested in following his lead.


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