Situated 90 miles south of Miami, Cuba is a beautiful and unique location to film in, with iconic colonial buildings, stunning beaches and areas of unspoiled natural beauty. All this is combined with an average of 330 days of sunshine per year, and a warm, culturally diverse population.
Cuba has a well-established national film and television industry. The main institution for filmmaking in Cuba is the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, or ICAIC), a state organisation established in 1959.
Though Cuba’s film and television industry predominantly serves a Cuban and Latin-American audience, it is internationally recognized and has a core infrastructure of experienced actors, professional crews, studios and production companies.
Cuba has proven to be a popular location for filming several international advertisements for television, including the Stella Artois campaign Runaway Piano, which exploited the colonial elegance of the city of Havana.
The country’s expansive tropical beaches have also been used by companies such as Nivea, Garnier, Ambre Solaire and Lynx to film advertising campaigns over the past few years.
A trade embargo between the US and Cuba has restricted the ability of many Hollywood productions to film in Cuba, but there have been a number of recent independent feature films based in the country with a particular focus on the city of Havana, for example:
There are some strict regulations to keep in mind when filming in Cuba.
The Asociación Cubana del Audiovisual (ACAV) is an organisation dedicated to the development of the independent film industry in Cuba, and its website provides information for assisting with any permits that may be required for filming.
One of the most restrictive regulations which foreign filmmakers face in Cuba is that the government may refuse filming permits if script content is considered to be “detrimental to the image of the country and the people of Cuba.”
A Temporary Work Permit Application for Visiting Media Productions is required for all members of a film production and must be submitted at least ten working days before arrival. All equipment will also require clearance.
Applications to shoot in the country can be made easier by contacting an authorised production company, which can advise and assist with logistical organisations and can make all the necessary contacts for shooting permits with the Cuban authorities.
As stated above, American filmmakers should note that there is significant legislation restricting the movement of American citizens to and from Cuba. Official permission must be granted by the American government for a citizen to visit the country. Oliver Stone was famously fined $100 by the US government for filming in Cuba between 2002 and 2003 without the relevant permission.
The ICAIC owns and operates the main studios in Cuba. This includes Cinematographic Studios and Animation Studios in Havana, alongside marketing and distribution offices.
As already mentioned, Cuba offers a range of distinctive filming locations to filmmakers.
Havana is particularly relevant for historical productions with colourful, vibrant street scenes, impressive colonial architecture and the proliferation of American classic cars from the 1950s giving the city the feeling that it has been locked in a time warp.
Cuba is also home to over 200 stunning white sand beaches and nine UNESCO sites including coffee plantations, the historic city of Camagüey, San Pedro de la Roca Castle, the Valley de los Ingenios and Alejando de Humboldt National Park.
Modern film equipment can now be more easily accessed in Cuba, and cities such as Havana have several companies who offer equipment rental. Production companies, such as those referenced above, can offer recommendations on where to rent.
However, for independent filmmakers on a strict budget, advanced planning is very important before travelling to Cuba with filmmaking equipment. If an item in your kit breaks, it can be difficult to find the correct parts to fix it. Though Cubans are extremely resourceful, it’s important to ensure you come prepared with replacement parts if your production will be ongoing for an extended period.
It must also be remembered that parts of Cuba are still not developed to Western standards. Outside of tourist areas, amenities can be restricted and electricity cuts can be common.