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El Norte: An Ill Wind?
Our Man In Havana
Breakfast at the Hotel Nacional
At the British Embassy
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Our Man In Havana
The next night is the first screening of YES in a huge, battered but beautiful cinema (The 'Yara'). I am a little nervous, and have been pre-warned that the audience is likely to talk and comment loudly throughout the film and not to take this badly. I have also been warned about the low technical standards of projection, but in fact the film looks and sounds better than in many European and North American cinemas and the cinema manager is eager to cooperate with sound levels, focus, and all the usual perfectionist problems of projection. (It really is true that the projectionist has final cut. In a recent industry screening in London the reels were shown in a different order. Some members of the audience, assuming the sequence to be intentional, apparently thought it was an interesting structural inversion.)
The film is very well received, even at this late hour. The applause is rapturous at the end. But in the lobby people come up and ask me - why did they (the hero and the heroine) come to Cuba? The implication is, what possible beauty and hope could there be here for you, you who have everything?
The British Ambassador, his wife, and a group from the British Council are at the screening. We are due to have a reception at the Embassy in the coming days, and I am concerned that the Ambassador - "Our Man in Havana" - may be regretting the invitation now that he has seen the film - but no, the contrary, 'It can't be said enough' says his wife of the things He (Simon Abkarian) says in the controversial car-park scene; ' I am proud to be British' says the Ambassador 'Proud to be from a country that can produce a film like this'. I am dumbfounded; although I wasn't expecting Alec Guinness, all my stereotyped ideas are blown away. Some of the extras from the sequence in Beirut (which we ended up filming in Havana because we became uninsurable to film in Beirut once the invasion of Iraq began) turned up at the screening. They were all from the 'Arab League' and were initially hostile to the idea of a British filmmaker asking them to work on her film. 'How dare you' they said and spoke bitterly of the policies of the governments of the UK and the US. But when the story of the film was explained, they cooperated; and by the end of the shoot we had become close. We hug like old friends at the screening. A young Palestinian woman is hovering nearby. She approaches me and thanks me formally for the language and the sentiments of the film.
The Yara cinema
Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated