Filming movies in Cuba remains elusive as the embargo continues

The recent thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba has travelers excited about the potential of visiting the Caribbean island, especially filmmakers who want…

Filming a move in Cuba might still prove elusive for most filmmakers despite a warming of relations with the country. (Shutterstock)

The recent thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba has travelers excited about the potential of visiting the Caribbean island, especially filmmakers who want to shoot on location; however, such excitement is currently being tempered by California-based attorney-producer Bill Martinez.

“The bottom line was really you couldn’t shoot any commercial film there,” said Martinez, who in the past has assisted film crews interested in visiting Cuba. “What was allowed and really still allowed until we hear otherwise – from the Office of Cuban Affairs at the State Dept. – is the films that can be done there are more like documentaries.”

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Obama Administration recently announced regulation changes that allow documentary filmmakers to enter Cuba without receiving federal approval for such a visit. Previously, each project required State Department consent, which Martinez said varied in criteria. He pointed to a car documentary film highlighting the history of cars in Cuba that was rejected five or so years ago that recently received approval.

Filmmakers still have roadblocks while to produce in Cuba

Even though there is hope dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba will further open doors, the American embargo against the country remains. Which also means not only is there a serpentine endeavor required for directors and producers looking to shoot commercial films in Cuba, but fines for such projects are likely from the American government.

Such was the case for Oliver Stone who produced two documentaries about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The director was fined an estimated $6,300 for violating the embargo. Still, Martinez said Cuba is often a location for foreign films.

“The restrictions are from the USA not the Cuba end,” Martinez said. “You still have to respect their protocol and make sure you’re not filming something sensitive or give them a game plan of what you’re intending to film but they haven’t been the stumbling block from filmmakers going there and doing their thing.”

What can filmmakers wanting to go to Cuba expect?

“In terms of going down there to film because of ‘Godfather 10’ or something relating to mafioso back in the day, that won’t be doable as far as I can tell under the changes,” Martinez said. “The regulations don’t speak to that.”

Furthermore, if the embargo is lifted and Hollywood has free reign over Cuba’s beautiful landscapes and idyllic small towns, what kind of impact does Martinez see this having on the film industry?

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“Hollywood has been a presence down there for the past 10 years or so, with conferences and the film festival making presentations about the film industry and how they make films in the U.S. vs. Cuba,” Martinez said. “So the Hollywood folks have been down there almost in an annual basis and they have potential exchanges going on for certain film projects already, which are acceptable.

“But as far as is Hollywood going to stampede over there to make more films? Yes, there will be an increase but I don’t know how significant it will be.”