Cuba, part of the globe forbidden to Americans, or so I thought.
In February of 2012 I turned on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” show for the Travel Channel. He was in Havana. As he sauntered down a street pontificating, my curious mind engaged. “Why does he get to visit and I don’t?!
Of course I knew of the embargo. I was in Junior High School when it was implemented. I also knew of the Cuba my three great aunts visited and loved. I was enthralled by their stories of Fidel, Hemingway, mobsters and the island’s pristine beauty.
Thanks to the world-wide-web, I discovered the Havana Film and Television School (EICTV). Sensing that this might be a great FAM Tour opportunity, I began securing interest from colleagues. Contacted a director, studio executive, producer, designer, and other location professionals. Each willing to pay their own way. I had my list but in a quandary on how to secure the all important travel visa.
More research brought me to a gentleman named Sandy Lieberson. A one-time studio head at MGM and 20th Century Fox he’d been teaching a 3 week course at the school for over seven years. More research. Sent an email.
The response was immediate and positive. Via Sandy was connected with Oriel Rodriguez. More emails. Ideas exchanged. Proposals offered.
Each response opened my eyes. Although the school’s title included Television the primary focal point had been film production. When Oriel informed me that everyone in Cuba had a television I assumed they watched older American TV shows. ER, The Cosby Show, I Love Lucy. When he wrote, “my wife loves the production design on Game of Thrones and I’m a big fan of 24,” I nearly choked on my morning coffee.
Platforms such as the internet, DVD’s, cell phones, have all contributed to Cuba’s up to date enjoyment of American TV production. The school recognized this cultural change and started to include courses on basic TV production.
One last refinement to my proposal and after a month long wait a formal invitation to visit the campus was extended. That was it. We’d gotten our visas. As the November departure date drew closer some colleagues unexpectedly dropped out. Remained undeterred. What had begun as a selfish quest to visit Cuba had evolved into a professional focus.
A few more phone calls, cajoling and the group members were confirmed.
The experience was so much more than ever expected. Six months removed from the trip I realize what a privilege it was to have been invited to the campus.
As for Cuba itself, it was all I expected and more. Beautiful, clean, peaceful. Cubans were friendly, polite and charming. Yes, there is incredible decay but never saw a homeless person or a beggar in the streets. Saw smiles. Heard laughter. Felt safe. Ironically the embargo has kept Cuba in an oddly idyllic time warp. The moment it’s lifted that will change.
Visit soon. Enjoy Cuba for being Cuba prior to the inevitable invasion of Mickey D’s and Starbucks.
Claudia Eastman is a Location Manager based in Los Angeles, CA.