Hurray for Havanawood: Cuba’s Movie Biz Is Set to Explode

Crowds watch shooting of Fast and Furious
Written by Larry Press

“Papa Hemmingway in Cuba” is just the beginning. The movie biz is set to explode in Havana. Here’s why.

aNewDomain — Papa Hemingway in Cuba, the new biopic of Ernest Hemingway hitting US theaters now, was filmed in Cuba before the Dec. 2014 US-Cuba rapproachment kicked off.

In many ways, it’s just a trailer for what’s to come. Listen. The movie business in Cuba is getting ready to take off big time. It’s taking off first as a location —  Fast and Furious has been filming in Cuba, for example. But it won’t be long before we start seeing Cuban/American coproduced movies, documentaries and educational films and TV for Spanish and English-speakers in both countries.

Papa Hemmingway Cuba movie businessThe potential Spanish language entertainment market is especially ripe. Think about it. There are more native Spanish speakers in the world than there are native English speakers — that’s 427 million compared to 335 million. And in the US, some 45 million people speak Spanish as a first or second language. And they’ve all been stuck watching the narrow and redundant lineup of Spanish media for years now.

They’re going to flock to new Spanish language, and even Spanglish, material.

If they aren’t doing it already, Netflix, Google, Amazon and Hulu need to jump in and set up a production center in Cuba immediamente. They can get ahead of the Hollywood wave of incoming Cuban media makers.

They can start by producing content for Cubans. The arts are so alive and vibrant in Cuba and there are tons of overeducated, underemployed creative professionals.

Let’s just talk Google for a second. It already has YouTube production spaces in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, New York, São Paulo, Berlin, Paris, Mumbai and Toronto. Havana is a perfect next step for it.

Netflix, of course, has a bit of a leg-up, Cuba wise. It was among the first US companies to say it would open up to Cuba, but as there is virtually no Internet infrastructure capable of streaming video content at the moment, it would be well served just focusing on grabbing up talent and properties so it can start creating some great content for Cuban Americans. Then, when the Cuba internet is ready, providing the Cuban government gives the nod, it’ll have some awesome content ready to go.

And then there’s this: Cubans do not stream Netflix productions — because they can’t — but they do watch pirated versions of Netflix thanks to El Paquete Semanal. Netflix bean counters have got to be imagining what Cuban royalty revenues from a legitimatized Paquete Semanal could look like.

For aNewDomain, I’m Larry Press.

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Editor: An earlier version of this article ran on Larry Press’ most excellent LaredCubana site. Read it here.