MIAMI HERALD UP FRONT | FILM
Posted on Sat, Jul. 16, 2005
Ignoring embargo, Americans film in Cuba
American filmmakers who shot a movie in Cuba and will screen it today at the American Black Film Festival may have violated the 45-year-old economic embargo.
BY DANIEL CHANG
What may be the first American feature film made in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s revolution will screen at the American Black Film Festival on Miami Beach today.
Not since 1959, when actor Errol Flynn made his last picture, Cuban Rebel Girls (tag line: “Filmed during the heaviest fighting of the Cuban revolution”), has an American filmmaker shot a movie on the communist island, say the creators of Love & Suicide, a romantic drama shot in Havana over 12 days in December 2003.
It’s not that Tinsel Town has no interest in the Land of Tobacco and Rum. Hollywood heavyweights from Steven Spielberg and Stephen Soderbergh to Francis Ford Coppola and Sydney Pollack have expressed a desire to make movies in Cuba.
But Cuba has been off-limits to American filmmakers with commercial motives since the U.S. government imposed an embargo against the island in 1960.
Some independent filmmakers, though, are ignoring the embargo.
Luis Moro, a Cuban American filmmaker from Los Angeles, filmed Love & Suicide while attending the 2003 Havana International Film Festival, which was screening one of his earlier movies, Anne B. Real.
Moro traveled to Cuba with about 10 Americans — actors, a director, a cinematographer. While there, they used wireless microphones and a digital camera the size of a shoebox to film 15 hours of scenes in the streets and parks of Old Havana, in cabs, bars and homes.
The filmmakers say they did not cooperate with the Cuban government.
”Nobody bothered us about anything. . . . We looked like tourists,” said director Lisa France. “We weren’t trying to hide.”
For American filmmakers, Cuba long has radiated an otherworldly appeal.
Scene after scene in Love & Suicide portray a picturesque island: fishermen’s dories bob in shimmering Havana Harbor, majestic waves crash over the el Malecón seawall, a setting sun casts the coastal Morro Castle in silhouette. The film portrays the fictional narrative of Tomás (played by actor Kamar de los Reyes), a distraught New Yorker who travels to Cuba with the intention of taking his life but ends up falling in love with Nina (played by actress Daisy McCrackin) and rediscovering his ancestral roots.
Long before Love & Suicide, American filmmakers publicly expressed desires to film on the island but were forbidden because of the U.S. embargo. Pollack’s Havana and Coppola’s Godfather II, for instance, have scenes set in Cuba and both directors reportedly wanted to film on the island.
To be sure, films made in Cuba have screened in American theaters before — including the 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club, which was produced by a German company in partnership with Cuba’s Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematográficos, or ICAC.
Those films were distributed in American theaters under a cultural exemption to the embargo that allows U.S. companies to buy completed films, recordings and art, and participate in their distribution.
But Americans are prohibited from directly financing or producing a film in Cuba.
And while the U.S. Department of the Treasury has issued licenses for American filmmakers to work in Cuba in the past, those licenses are limited to filmmakers engaged in noncommercial, academic research.
Molly Millerwise, a Treasury department spokeswoman, has not seen Love & Suicide. But, she said, “U.S. persons must have a specific or general license from the Treasury department to travel to Cuba. If not they may face civil monetary penalties or criminal penalties.”
Moro and France say they did not knowingly break the law.
Young Cuban filmmakers say they have worked on the island without the government’s knowledge — largely by using guerrilla techniques.
”I basically shoot indoors. I shoot in areas that are not problematic,” said Miguel Coyula, 27, who left Cuba in 2002 and said he made 12 short films while living there.
Coyula, who now lives in New York City, made his last film in Cuba in 2001. He plans to visit the island in January.
Asked if he plans a movie, Coyula quickly replied.
”Oh yes,” he said, “I’m planning to shoot there.”
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