Skip to main content

VI-step-directions: How to shoot a documentary film in Cuba

After two years of vast investigations, the filming of the documentary about the Swiss artist Rudolf Häsler (1927-1999) entitled «Coca-Castro» initiated in spring 2016. The film was shoot in Switzerland, Spain and Cuba, whereas, the filming on Cuba proved to be the greatest challenge.

Anleitung in VI Schritten - Wie drehe ich einen Dokumentarfilm auf Kuba

VI-step-directions: How to shoot a documentary film in Cuba

I Apply for a filming permit issued by Cuban government 
Be careful when choosing your phrasing. Specify that you are not considering bringing drones or Walkie Talkies to the country and make sure to point out, that the documentary has no political extent. Still, it turns out to be difficult, expressing to Cuba’s authoritarian government the intention of making a documentary about a persona non grata, a former official, who was expelled from the country. Shortly after the revolutionary forces gained victory, Rudolf Häsler was appointed director at the national department of arts and crafts.
However, the Swiss painter Rudolf Häsler felt from grace with Fidel Castro and got displaced from his position. Thus, in 1969 he was constrained to hastily quit Cuba.
Creativity will serve our purpose, yet, to obtain a film permit by Cuba’s foreign ministry. According to the official script, Häsler is not going to be portrayed in consideration of his political commitment, if anything, a screen report about Cuba’s traditional arts and crafts will be realized based on the artist.   
As an arts and crafts director Häsler was committed, after all, to reestablish Cuba’s national arts and craft tradition, which had come to a standstill during Fulgencio Batistas dictatorship. For this purpose Häsler carefully studied Cuba’s arts and crafts and found out which natural resources were accessible. Due to his travails he managed to reestablish a new ceramic industry in Cuba.
Our procedure proved to be constructive; after several official writings we obtained a film permit for a 14 days period in Havana.

II It is indispensable to be accompanied by a creative producer from Cuba: 
Belkis Vega, a well-known Cuban documentary film director, helped the «Coca-Castro»-film crew to find a creative producer; Dania Illisastiguí supported us in any concern. Our smart Cuban assistant managed to organize everything, she even kept thinking about refilling cold soft drinks to our crew bus. 

III Do not arise reasons for distrust:
Cubans basically draw their attention to foreigners, if you are additionally carrying a film camera with you, people will suspiciously glance at you. Be cautious whenever you get in touch with officials; to your best advantage let the creative producer conciliate the situation by showing the film permit. It is strictly forbidden to film schools, hospitals and governmental buildings – Cuba’s secular sanctuaries. By virtue of subtle tactfulness and discretion we still managed to make a brief shot of the Universidad de la Habana. 

IV Read Jose Martí:
Cuba’s revolutionary poet Jose Martí (1853-1895), who struggled for the country’s independence, represents a central figure within Cuba’s understanding of its society. His bust decorates every educational establishment without exception, his lines can be read on numerous propaganda placards and the Cubans embellish their proverbs with his pieces of wisdom. 

V Be oblivious to Cuba’s culinary art:
You better try to develop preferences for Cuba’s (not particularly varied) cuisine: „Arroz moro y ropa vieja“. Whenever you have eaten enough rice and beans, there is still the alternative on each menu to order Cordon Bleu, Club sandwich or Pizza (of course the Caribbean interpretation of the universally known dishes).

VI Exchange „Chocolate Suizo“ for an unforgettable view:
Offer a Swiss chocolate bar and get access to Havana’s most beautiful roof terraces in order to realize a film shoot.

About artist
Rudolf Häsler
Interlaken, 1927 — 1999

Rudolf Häsler (29.7.1927, Interlaken - 18.1.1999, Sant Cugat del Vallès) has worked as a primary school teacher in Interlaken since 1947. At the same time, however, he took painting lessons and travelled throughout Europe. In 1952 he gave up teaching and devoted himself completely to art. Trips to the Sahara, Seville, Granada, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Andalusia followed. In 1956 he met María Dolores Soler in Granada. In 1957 he travels with her to Cuba to her hometown Santiago de Cuba and marries her there. Fascinated by the country, Häsler decided to stay in Cuba and started a family there.
In Cuba, Häsler experienced the climax of the Cuban Revolution, and he himself was enthusiastic about the atmosphere of change. He wanted to play an active role in this social change and joined a group of artists who were particularly dedicated to art on buildings. He also developed a concept for the establishment of a nationwide ceramics industry, which was approved by the government. Häsler was promoted to managing advisor in the newly founded National Institute of Decorative Arts and was made director in 1960. He is the second highest foreign deputy in the Cuban state after the Argentinean revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the then Minister of Industry.