SEAGATE INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR, BRUCE DONNELLY
Working in Cuba is without question both a thrilling and challenging place to shoot a film. Four years ago, I began developing an idea for a documentary feature Alumbrones that would look at the lives and work of visual artists in Cuba, and as much as I tried to prepare myself for the place and its politics and the many hoops and hurdles I’d have to maneuver through, nothing quite prepared me for the real thing.
In preparation for our shoot, we applied for any and all necessary permits, with full-disclosure as to the nature and content of the project. With clearance to shoot, our D.P. and I arrived at the airport in Havana, heavily laden with our equipment. Every item we had with us was very carefully chosen, as there were many factors and issues to consider that would potentially impede our production.
Conditions are generally not conducive to an easy shoot, with transportation being fairly limited to old cars and taxis, and general supplies being very scarce indeed. In fact, there are simply no supply stores for any filmmaking equipment, whether it would be to buy anything new, or to fix or replace anything broken or missing from the set. For that reason, we tried carrying at least two of everything, should anything go awry.
Despite arriving with filming permits, the Cuban authorities were still very sticky with regards to some items of equipment. They remain very suspicious of any and all sound-recording devices, as well as hard drives of any size and shape going in and out of the country.
Whilst I am happy to find ways to simplify and adjust to having fewer items on set with us, I remain somewhat paranoid about having a lack of storage for all our footage, as well as the multiple back-ups thereof. We solved our sound-recording problem by hiring a local crew member that had his own boom mic, lavalier microphones and mixer.
The hard drives were an issue we had to solve on our own, though. It’s little problem to arrive in Havana with one, or perhaps two hard drives, but anything in excess of that raises eyebrows and could potentially threaten production. I’m still unclear as to why this should suddenly become an issue passed a certain point, but like most things in Cuba, the more you try to make sense of things, the more unclear they be- come.
So, we set out to resolve this problem by getting all crew members to bring large, durable hard drives with them on the way in...and disperse multiple copies amongst ourselves on the way out. This definitely helped to lessen my anxiety and ensure that our footage was safely stored, backed-up and distributed, should any of us encounter problems leaving.
The nature of your production and the locations you may find yourself in, are major determining factors in the kinds of hard drives you use and the way you use them.
When working in Cuba, the reality of being in production is really quite different from anywhere else. Shooting Alumbrones found us in multiple locations each day, never in the same place twice, so there was no base of operations per se. We worked in small, indoor spaces and studios, as well as a lot of rough terrain, without access to power supplies of any kind.
Even with occasional power supplies, electricity in Cuba is notorious for being intermittent and unreliable, so much so that it even inspired the title: Alumbrones, which is a slang term the Cubans gave to those rare and brief moments when electricity would be available to them, which is something they had to endure during their most difficult years.
All our equipment therefore needed to work on battery power and our hard drives had to run off the laptops. Not only that, but they needed to be compact and durable enough to survive the conditions they found themselves in. Also, being somewhat limited in the number of hard drives we could bring into the country and with buying any additional storage within the country simply not being an option, the few drives we had with us, were 2TB each (the maximum available at the time), to ensure we had as much storage space as was possible.