Cuba has been a deep curiosity and fascination of mine for most of my life. I’ve long wondered about this place and its people, isolated from the rest of the world, yet identified so quickly and easily around the globe, for their thriving culture, turbulent history and revolutionary icons.
In my mind it has formed vibrant and contrasting images of crumbling grandeur, extreme poverty and struggle amongst the magnificent remains of a fallen empire. Its ideologies, so strangely juxtaposed with an island lifestyle and relaxed attitude, make for a confusing, yet entirely intriguing mix, which has stirred my imagination with great persistence.
A little over two years ago, whilst visiting Boston, I happened upon an art gallery dealing exclusively with Cuban art and I went in to take a look around. Being no expert on art, but with a growing interest, I was totally taken in by all the images on the walls. So intense and consuming were they, that I was hooked from the start. There were a number of artists represented there, with each one so different in their style and view of the world. But collectively, all these paintings said so much about the country and its spirit and I was unable to get this out of my head. Many hours later, having talked at length to the gallery owner and viewed all the artwork, ideas for a project were beginning to take shape in my mind.
A few days later, I was back in contact with the gallery owner, who expressed an interest in my idea. I needed no further encouragement and was quickly off to work on putting the whole project together.
Delving back into the books, I began refreshing what I knew of Cuba, as well as discovering so much about its ever-burgeoning art scene. The country’s complexities and baffling contradictions meant that I would not have an easy time wrapping my brain around the film’s subjects and would need to tread quite carefully and respectfully into this strange new world.
A year later, following much preparation, research and contact with the artists themselves, came my first trip to Cuba and with that, an enormous amount of excitement, which far out-weighed any reservations or trepidation I may have had.
With such excitement and anticipation already fully-mounted, came the fear that the world I was entering would not live up to expectations. But, how absolutely wrong I was. In the weeks that followed, my little world was opened right up and my view of it shifted completely. Cuba was so much more than I could have ever imagined and the people I met and into whose homes and lives I was welcomed, would leave an absolutely indelible mark on me.
The struggles I read about and the complexities I tried so hard to comprehend, were clear as day before my eyes, but the effects those had on the people of Cuba and how they made for such resilient, creative, passionate and warmhearted human beings, was an unexpected discovery. What a testament they are, to knowing your priorities in life, putting family and friends above all else, living without a sense of entitlement and living simply. Now, more than ever, I wanted to make this film and tell their stories.
With everyone on board and everything in place, a small crew and myself returned to Havana some months later to shoot the film. The usual stresses and complications with filmmaking notwithstanding, the shoot was a success and friendships not only survived, but grew stronger than ever, which made for the most difficult departure I’ve ever faced. But, it was now time to enter the editing room and begin assembling all the parts.
From start to finish, this film has felt right, a perfect fit. The pieces came together so effortlessly and joyously, with boundless support and encouragement from all involved, and those interested in the project and its subject. Filmmaking is no easy game, with all the elements always working against you from the start. But, the sustained energy and enthusiasm from all involved and the coming together of all the many parts, has been a constant encouragement and signal to me that perhaps this film needed to be made, and with Cuba seeing such significant changes and facing many uncertainties, what better time to make it than now.
I’m extremely proud of this film and enormously privileged to have been at the helm throughout the making of it.
- Bruce Donnelly