This month, HAVANA MOTOR CLUB was released nationally in theaters across the US. This movie is a character-driven story that follows Reynaldo "Rey" López García, Carlos Alvarez Sanchez, Armando "Piti" Munnet Rodriguez, Jose "Jote" Antonio Madera, Reinaldo "Tito" López Fernández, Saul Garcia, and Milton Díaz Cánter. At its core, HMC showcases the change that is racing down the streets of Havana. Cuba's premier underground drag racers struggle to prepare their classic cars for the first official car race since the 1959 Revolution.
During the 84 minutes of this documentary, recent reforms are presented including: the owning of property, allowance of small businesses, and greater exchange between Cubans, Cuban Americans, tourists, and other foreigners. These changes affect the lives of these racers and their families. One racer enlists the help of a Cuban American patron in Miami to bring in parts for his modern Porsche. His main competitor is a renowned mechanic who uses ingenuity rather than resources to create a racing machine out of his father’s 1955 Chevy Bel Air. Another racer ponders whether he will participate in the race or sell his motor — one that he recovered on the ocean floor from a ship used to smuggle Cubans off the island — in order to flee Cuba on a raft headed to Florida.
Meanwhile, the race itself is in jeopardy of coming to fruition due to factors ranging from its status as an elitist sport to the arrival of the Pope in Cuba. Through the experiences of these racers and their community, HAVANA MOTOR CLUB explores how Cuba is changing today and what its future holds in light of the Obama Administration’s recent move to normalize relations with the island nation.
With the success of this movie that debuted at last year's Tribeca Film Festival and a recent
screening that we attended, we wanted to find out more about how this movie came together and chatted with the film's director and producer, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt.
ATHLEISURE MAG: We enjoyed the film and learning about these four characters juxtaposed against the changes that are taking place in Cuba - how did you decide to present the story in this manner?
BENT-JORGEN PERLMUTT: It was a process in getting this film created as there were a number of delays. As you saw in the film, there were a number of times when we were told that the race was happening and then last minute, it would be postponed or canceled - such as the Pope's visit. We spent about 4 months there, but there were months of delays. Even on the day that we filmed the race which was covered in the film, I wasn't really sure until we were there that it was actually going to happen!
When we looked at the amount of footage that we had amassed, 300 hours - a decision had to be made about how we tell the story. We decided that although we had followed a number of the drag racers that the best was was to bring these 4 men forward as they reflected distinct stories of where Cubans are. We have the man who wishes to leave Cuba for opportunities in the US, another who rejects the changes, a man who embraces what is happening and the one that embodies the everyday life of a Cuban who comes from a family of car fixers and is not affected by what is going on around him.
AM: We got to see a number of first hand accounts of the drag racing world, were there edits that were requested by the drivers and in filming this, did you feel safe during production?
BJP: We felt very safe during filming and we also took steps towards ensuring that, such as filming the races that took place during the day as opposed to at night. Many of the scenes where you see racing from inside the car, were due to our sponsor GoPro, which had their cameras from inside as opposed to having our teams in them during races.
Some racers did have concerns with filming how they received their parts for their cars; therefore these parts were taken out. In addition, scenes involving gambling were also taken out. In Cuba, if you are caught gambling, you will serve 3 - 4 years in jail. We have shown this film at a number of festivals including the Havana Film Festival last December and it was met with a warm reception.
AM: Since filming of HAVANA MOTOR CLUB has taken place, are there thoughts of following up with them?
BJP: We were so fortunate to come to Cuba when we did 4 years ago to film this movie as now there are many productions looking to film in the area. Unlike Cuban athletes that have been covered in films, this movie allowed the everyday Cuban to be portrayed as well as to present popular topics that are relevant right now. There have been talks to do a spinoff documentary series on the racers as a way to know their stories a bit more. Interestingly enough, the guys are being filmed for Fast and the Furious 8 which is taping in Cuba. Anthony Bourdain has also filmed with them as well.
AM: Since the film's production and with the current changes taking place in this country, has the state of racing changed there?
BJP: Racing hasn't changed in Cuba, but the amount of money coming into the sport has. There are racers that are now sneaking in Maserattis and BMWs!
Read more from Apr 2016