Irene, a young Spanish woman eager to experience Cuba’s reality, goes to Havana but leaves disillusioned by the true face of the Castro dictatorship.
Irene dreamed of the paradise projected by the government’s propaganda machinery until she meets Nelson. But her perception changes completely after the would-be poet shows her what tourist postcards never do.
That’s the story line of the 30-minute film “Irene in Havana,” written by journalist Juan Manuel Cao and directed by Lilo Vilaplana, which makes its world premiere Tuesday. But the film’s back story is one of intrigue as well: Much of it was shot clandestinely in Cuba.
Vilaplana said he did not want to reveal details of the filming in Havana “to protect the identity of the people who collaborated with the project. ” He told el Nuevo Herald that “several team members traveled to Havana from different countries to avoid suspicions.”
The challenges made him even more enthusiastic about the project, he said, because it’s an opportunity to tell a story that touches on executions by firing squad, an issue distorted by Cuban propaganda for more than 50 years.
Images of the Havana cathedral, the Prado and Malecon boulevards and the La Cabaña fortress — where the Castro regime executed hundreds during its first years in power — are included in the movie.
“The Castro regime must be denounced because it’s already 60 years of impunity, and our responsibility is to break through that and not remain silent,” Vilaplana said. “We have to go on the offensive. The rulers have to know that the island belongs to us Cubans, and that we will take it back.” Vilaplana’s other works include the serial “El Capo,” the short film “The death of the Cat” and two seasons of the series “Legends of Exile.”
For Cao, writing the script was a challenge because it was “the first time the central theme of a Cuban movie is the death penalty,” he said.
“That issue has loomed over our lives for six decades. It was time to deal with it,” he said. “But the hardest part was avoiding a movie becoming a political pamphlet and allowing the love story to prevail.”
Cao, who also edited the film, said the recordings made in Cuba were copied several times and then taken out of the island in a variety of ways “to avoid any confiscations.”
“Irene in Havana” presents the acting debut of journalist Irene Diaz, who called it a transformational experience.
“Joining this project meant leaving my comfort zone, experimenting in an unknown area and breaking the routine,” said Diaz, who anchors entertainment reports on the América TeVé news program.
“I can say that in some ways, the role I play could have been me before I came to live in Miami.”
Cast members include Ariel Texidó, one of Miami’s most versatile actors; María Teresa Rojas; Sandra Pérez; Carlos Cruz; and Luis Felipe Bagós.
“Irene in Havana” debuts Nov. 27, 8 p.m. at Manuel Artime Theater, 900 SW First Street; free admission. The film airs on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 10:30 p.m. on América TeVé. Information: 305-592-4141.