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Captivating Cuba

An inexpensive country to film in and relatively unexplored, the Caribbean island nation of Cuba presents limitless possibilities for filmmakers 

As a filming location, Cuba is a country that is hardly explored by Bollywood. One of the most popular Bollywood films that has been shot in Cuba is the Salman Khan-starrer Ek Tha Tiger, which released in 2012. After that, no other Indian filmmaker has ventured here to use this country as a filming locale. When it comes to Hollywood, a few parts of the well-known releases of the 2017 Fast and Furious – Fate Of the Furious and Transformers: The Last Knight were shot here.

Officially known as the Republic of Cuba, this is the largest and most populous island country in the Caribbean, where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. The culture of Cuba is strongly influenced by its rich history. Even today, you can see a glimpse of Cuban history in its architecture, while Cuban culture is an amalgamation of Spanish and African cultures. All these elements are exciting to filmmakers, who could explore this country as a filming destination.

Locations

The capital city of Havana, the largest city and leading commercial centre of Cuba, is preferred by most filmmakers to shoot here. Havana is one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Places like Cathedral of Havana, El Malecon, El Morro Fortress, National Capitol Building and Old Square (Plaza Vieja) were used as a backdrop for Ek Tha Tiger. Among the above attractions, Malecon, a walkway stretching along the Havana coast, is a beautiful sight.

Away from the local streets of Havana is Havana’s Old Town with very few tourists, which gives you a more authentic experience of Cuba’s culture and history.  There are also places like the historic city of Camagüey, San Pedro de la Roca Castle, the Valley de los Ingenios and Alejando de Humboldt National Park, which can be good attractions to shoot.

Other than these, sites like the Fine Arts Museum, Revolution Museum, Havana Stock Exchange, Russian Orthodox Cathedral, University of Havana, Great Theatre of Havana, Chinatown, gorgeous town squares like Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza de Armas and the crumbling mansions could serve as amazing backdrops for films.

Situated an hour’s drive from Havana, you will find white-sand beaches, rivers, forests, plantations and rural roads to film. There is a small town in Cuba called Viñales in the Pinar del Rio region, where there are tobacco fields, limestone cliffs and caves. Viñales could also be the setting for the north of Thailand. There are over 200 white-sand beaches in Cuba, among which Varadero Beach, the Eastern Havana Beaches, Cayo Largo, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo are the best ones.

Climate

The best time to visit Cuba in dry and sunny days is from December to May. However, from a cost-effective filming point of view, visit the island in the month of May. You might experience rain in this month but not too much. From December to April, the island is packed with tourists as there are many events and festivals during this time. If you are planning to visit Cuba in these months, make sure you begin planning almost a year in advance. 

Avoid visiting Cuba from June to November as this is the hurricane season. September and October see the worst hurricanes. Temperatures are also very humid in these months. If filmmakers want to cover special events like the Havana Jazz Festival or Havana Carnival, visit the country in February or July, respectively.

Visa and Work Permits

It is essential to get work permits for the visiting crew. For a work permit, you have to submit your project details, flight details and passport photocopy. It is difficult to get a work permit if the concept of your film is politically sensitive. If the crew prefers to enter on a tourist visa, they will be granted a maximum stay of 30 days. The details of arrival and departure dates of all the members should be notified to the respective authorities.

Shooting Permits

Cuba has strict rules when it comes to getting permits to shoot. The government may refuse to grant the permit if they find your script damaging the image of the country. An application for temporary work permit is essential for the whole cast and crew. The applications must be submitted at least 10 working days before arrival of all the members of the production.

There is an organisation called Asociación Cubana del Audiovisual (ACAV), which helps in getting the permits required for filming. Following details are required for an application:

  • A letter comprising details of the production house, project and script of the film is to be submitted
  • Details about the duration of the shoot
  • An estimated budget of the film should be mentioned
  • The tentative figure of the expenditure to be made in Cuba should be mentioned

Separate permits will be required from different government departments, depending on the locations of filming. This will determine how much time it will take to be granted a permit. It takes about two weeks to get the permit for guerrilla shoots and about three weeks for shoots that involve blocking roads, pyrotechnics or traffic control.

If filming is done without the required permits, you might be arrested and have your equipment seized. All equipment will also require clearance.

Cost and Tax Incentives

There are no specific tax incentives provided by the Cuban government to foreign filmmakers. However, Cuba is a cost-effective country to shoot due to the availability of cheap labour and location rates.

Equipment

Cuba is a very resourceful country when it comes to getting equipment locally for filming. All the standard and modern equipment of filming are easily accessible here. There are also many companies in big cities like Havana where makers can get equipment on a rental basis. If there is a need for any specialised equipment, it can be easily imported from Mexico or Europe. It usually takes about a week to organise the documents for temporary import of equipment.

Customs

Clearance will be necessary for all the equipment to be imported by air or by sea. Administration fees must be paid for the equipment imported on temporary basis for shoot. Also, a list of equipment must be submitted seven working days before its arrival. The equipment brought in as cargo or accompanied baggage must be checked in/out with Customs on arrival and prior to check-in with the airlines at the time of departure.

Expenditure Report

After the completion of filming in Cuba, a report of production expenses incurred there must be submitted to the ACAV.

- Bhavi Gathani

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