In “Struggling to Film in America’s Chokehold (Cuban Moviemakers Feeling Burden of U.S. Embargo),” Victoria Burnett highlights the lost opportunities (suffered by both sides) caused by the U.S. embargo on most Cuban activities, in this case, filmmaking. Here are a few excerpts; don’t miss the full article below.
In Hollywood terms, it was small change. But for Miguel Coyula, a Cuban filmmaker accustomed to working on a tiny budget, the $5,200 he raised on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com last year would have bought some lighting equipment, a Steadicam and a tripod, all crucial for his science-fiction feature, “Blue Heart.” However, Indiegogo suspended the campaign in August and froze the money after determining that transferring funds to Cuba or a Cuban resident would violate the United States’ economic embargo. “It was like someone pulling the rug from under your feet,” said Mr. Coyula, who spoke in English by phone from Havana. “That was when I realized I was really on my own, that making a movie in Cuba is hard because both the Cuban government makes it difficult, and the American government makes it difficult.”
Cuban filmmaking has changed significantly in recent years, as the state’s role has shrunk, digital technology has made independent productions more feasible, and the Internet has opened tantalizing avenues to funding. More and more of the contemporary Cuban movies selected for international festivals like the Havana Film Festival New York, which runs through Friday, are made with little or no input from state institutions.
What hasn’t changed, however, are the financial and legal restrictions that make transferring money to Cuba illegal without a special license from the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Those restrictions also prevent Americans from investing in Cuban movies and prohibit Americans from making most films on the island.
[. . .] Ubaldo Huerta, a Cuban technology expert who lives in Barcelona, shut down Yagruma, a crowdfunding platform specifically for Cuban projects, in February 2013, a little more than a year after he started it. The site financed 11 projects, for example raising 1,200 euros (about $1,650) to help make “The Last Act,” a vivid stop-motion short by Harold Rensoli. But in August 2012, PayPal, which was processing payments for Yagruma, suspended Mr. Huerta’s account out of concern that the site was violating the embargo. Mr. Huerta explored the possibility of a license from the Treasury office, but said he was told by officials it would be turned down. He suspended the site rather than risk a fine, and was unable to find a PayPal alternative that didn’t have American connections. [. . .] Mr. Huerta said he does not believe the embargo was meant to thwart such projects. “We’re collateral damage,” he said. That damage comes in different guises. Alejandro Brugués, a Cuban-Argentine filmmaker, twice tried to get Dolby to certify the sound quality of his films, but Dolby turned down his requests because he was working in Cuba. “They basically said, ‘No, and we can’t have any contact with you,’ ” Mr. Brugués said by phone from Los Angeles. Mr. Brugués, whose €2.5-million zombie movie, “Juan of the Dead,” was financed via Spain, said that he would have to shoot his latest movie, about a Cuban heist, elsewhere because it had American backing.
For Cuban workers, that means missing out on contracts worth thousands of dollars, which could boost the island’s clutch of new production companies.
[. . .] Right now, though, experts said, the American film industry is missing the chance to use the island as a production site and exchange ideas with Cuban filmmakers, who for decades have relied on Europe for backing and co-productions. [. . .]