HAVANA — It happened late at night, in one of Havana’s most popular private cultural centers. When an image of Our Lady of Charity next to the Cuban Art Factory (FAC) is illuminated, one can assume that the evening has just started.
Few realized when the group of U.S. film producers, screen writers and directors slipped in. They didn’t make a triumphant entrance. They simply entered a private hall and gradually mixed with the crowd waiting to meet one of the producers of the world’s most-watched TV series — Game of Thrones.
Dozens of fans knew that they would see Duncan Muggoch, the producer who supervised the location scenes in Croatia of the fourth season and in Spain of the fifth season. But there was more.
The news is that, at this time of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, HBO [made] a presence in Cuba for the first time.
In general, 2015 has been a year of “firsts” between Cuba and the United States, but always “in more than 50 years”: the first Secretary of State to visit the island; the first direct flights to Havana from New York, New Orleans, etc.; the first telephone companies to sign up with Cuba; the first ferryboat loaded with passengers; the first university to send its students, etc.
Kim Hammond, director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and coordinator of this group of filmmakers, puts it this way: “This is a new math: the second power plus the third power equals one, a single greater force. Don’t forget that. And it doesn’t matter who is second or third.”
According to his calculations, the sequence of the digits does not change the result. And this is worth repeating, says this businessman.
“Let’s get started. We’ve come from far away,” said Kia Jam, founder and president of K. Jam Media, an independent company that has produced more than 30 films in the past 15 years. He was starting a cheerful exchange with the audience, after showing some audiovisuals. He was right; they had come from more than 50 years away.
“Why are you here?” was our first question to Kia Jam. We know that we know the answer but everyone has his own variant to the same question.
–“Cuba fascinates me. It is a place of marvelous people. Everyone I’ve met is very pleasant and I’ve felt very welcome. I like it because it has a graphic proximity to the United States. Obviously, from an architectural point of view, it’s a unique place. If I sought this anywhere else, I would have to build it, but I don’t have to, here. There would be many advantages to making a movie or a series here.”
We’re in the trailer reserved for them by the CAF.
–“Do you think that there are concrete opportunities to work here?”
–“In fact, I do, but we need to be very careful to take small and proper steps, because if a first major picture had a bad experience here, it would create a precedent, it would be bad for everyone else. So, we need to be careful when we embark on a joint project with the community of Cuban and non-Cuban directors, so we can be sure that we can build a good business here. It’s a fascinating place; I like it a lot. And the food is so good!”
–“Do you think you can invest in Cuban cinema? U.S. law may permit it but only with independent filmmakers who are making the Cuban films with the most international awards in recent years.”
–“Absolutely. First, it is very difficult for us to come and invest a lot of money at this point, very difficult. But that’s changing. We had a very enjoyable conversation with the U.S. ambassador a few nights ago, when we told me about all those marvelous things that are changing.
“I think it’s going to take a little more time, but we’re always looking for new and good ideas, no matter where they come from: Beverly Hills, New York, Los Angeles, Cuba. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the good ideas, because that’s what sustains the business: fresh minds, people who bring new ideas. I believe that this is something that will definitely happen. It will just be a matter of time.”
–“In other words, you’re scouting.”
–“Yes, we’re scouting today, because if we see something we like, it could be the investment tomorrow. We’re not just having a good time. I believe that major opportunities exist.”
Kia Jam was in Cuba two years ago. On that occasion, he visited the International School of Cinema in San Antonio de los Baños and gave a lecture.
–“I see those kids in the school and tell myself that they are tomorrow’s directors, the next Steven Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola. So we want to reach them, to be part of their inspiration. And if we find something today that looks interesting, perhaps we can work on it in the future.”
–“Do you know what ‘the package’ is?”
–“Honestly, I don’t.”
–“It’s a system of offline distribution that commercializes every kind of content (except for pornography and politics) without paying royalties. Even the series and movies shown on Cuban television are pirated. We have access to the latest U.S. productions two or three days after their commercial release.”
–“We hope that that will change, because that’s the easy way.”
Of course, that is a problem for Kia and all those who, like him, engage in the business of cinema. We haven’t talked about quality or art; tonight, we’re only talking business.
–“I kill myself working to do something that the rest of the world should buy. Why others don’t? I understand that right now things are complicated here. With time, as we learn more about you and your culture and your community of directors, Cuba (as a nation) will learn more about distribution, royalties and cinema as a business. I think we should learn from each other.”
Duncan explained that the mega-production of Game of Thrones is getting ahead of the books, so the team has had to “assume that Game of Thrones is an independent television story” with its own life. Someone in the audience asks the inevitable question.
–“Is John Snow really dead?”
Snow is one of the characters in Game of Thrones who recently was apparently murdered. The massive reaction of fans worldwide has (according to speculations) led the producers to consider bringing him back. The modern version of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
That concern, so often repeated in recent months, would have made Duncan a millionaire, he says, if he had earned one dollar for every time someone asked him about Snow.
His answer is a winner: “If you want to know if he really died, wait for the next season.”
Shortly after their brief appearance, the American visitors slipped away into the Havana night. After all, they were just scouting.