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Cuba has seen an impressive surge in Hollywood shoots this year, thanks to recent U.S. efforts to ease commercial and diplomatic relations with the Caribbean island nation.
Havana hosted three high-profile film and TV productions this year, including F. Gary Gray’s Fast 8, the latest installment of the Vin Diesel action franchise. Also shot on Cuban soil was Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight and Showtime’s season-five (and series-) finale of House of Lies, starring Don Cheadle.
While there’s been optimism about business in Cuba, a recent statement by President-elect Donald Trump, after the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has cast doubt on what the future holds. On Twitter, Trump wrote: “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”
Which begs the question: Will the former reality TV star and future U.S. president curtail a filming policy that has benefited both countries? The short answer is probably not.
“I think it would be a terrible mistake to roll back the great strides made towards normalization of relations with Cuba,” said Crash producer Bob Yari, who also directed the Havana-set drama Papa Hemingway in Cuba in 2014. “Not only will it hurt the film and TV industry, it will continue a policy of punishing the Cuban people with no real return on that policy.”
Papa Hemingway was the first Hollywood picture to be shot in Cuba since the Castro-led 1959 revolution.
It remains unclear what Trump means when he says he will seek “a better deal” with Cuba. He has said the Cuban government must improve its human rights record, but the U.S. also has been sharply criticized for flagrant rights abuses at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in southern Cuba.
Many Cubans view Trump’s threat as “meddling” in the country’s internal affairs, as actor and Academy Awards voting member Jorge Perugorria (Che: El Argentino) expressed in a recent interview at a Mexico book fair.
Michael Pacino, head of production services company Cuba Film Productions, believes existing filming policies will undergo no changes under Trump.
“Trump is a businessman, and if there is a way for American companies to do business in Cuba, he would be in favor of it,” he said. “Yes, he’ll have to support the Cuban-Americans that helped him win in Florida, but I don’t think that will mean reverting to old policies.”
Even with the easing of restrictions, filming in Cuba still presents certain challenges, such as licensing issues and slow internet access.
Additionally, for the first time, the Cuban government finds itself juggling the needs of a fast-growing tourism industry and a rising demand for filming authorizations.
That, says Pacino, has left many U.S. projects in limbo as they await government approval to film in Cuba.
“There has to be some kind of quota,” he said. “Otherwise Old Havana would look like the backlot at Universal Studios. Can you imagine the malecon (Cuba’s iconic esplanade) being blocked off for every production that wanted to film there? There’s just not enough room for them all.”
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