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Hemingway movie paves way for Cuba filming

A Hollywood film telling the story of a young writer’s experiences meeting Ernest Hemingway in late-1950s Cuba has paved the way for American productions to film in the country.

Michael Pacino, a co-producer on Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, talks to KFTV about the film.  

Inspired by real events, the movie tells the story of a young American journalist who spends time with Hemingway in the country in 1959 shortly before Fidel Castro and his followers finally seize power on the island. Giovanni Ribisi and Adrian Sparks lead the cast.

The new film is the first Hollywood production to shoot in Cuba since the revolution, but perhaps predictably the production took time to realise.    

Given that the film features strong US components, including American actors, Vancouver-based Sunstone Film Productions needed a special licence from the US government to enable them to shoot in Cuba, which has been under an official trade embargo since Castro took power. This process took the best part of a year and the Papa team got a lot of help from the Canadian ambassador to Cuba. Filming another country as a double was never an option.

“It was either Cuba or bust,” explains Pacino. “Over a third of our script took place in ‘La Finca’ (Hemingway's house, which is now a museum). The script was based on real events in Cuba, so there wasn't an alternative location that could capture the authenticity we needed.”

Pacino adds that the permissions process has become much more streamlined since Papa wrapped. Relations between the US and Cuba have thawed considerably over the past year and the US reopened its embassy in Havana in the summer of last year. 

Vin Diesel’s next Fast & Furious movie is planning to become the largest production ever to film in Cuba. The action franchise has become renowned for shooting in exotic parts of the world and could help massively boost Cuba’s international production profile.    

“We were the forerunners to all the feature films that are now gaining access to Cuba under less difficult circumstances,” Pacino adds.

Below-the-line crew can be hired in Cuba, as can lighting and grip equipment, but Pacino reports that camera equipment needs to be brought in. The country is now getting more popular but there are limits to how many productions Cuba can host.

“There are just too many solo filmmakers with shoestring budgets trying to film on the island,” Pacino comments: “There's not enough room for everyone. The better-planned and financed projects are the ones that can be expected to be approved.”

For more on filming in Cuba see our production guide.

Images courtesy of Michael Pacino.


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