Our field producer, Claudia Bueno, on Day 2.

Our field producer, Claudia Bueno, on Day 2.

Our crack team met at the house of Figa, our sound recordist, who has an apartment in Vedado. We try to travel light, but ended up with a crew of 8, all Cuban except moi. Our newest find is Claudia, a 25-year old producer who will be working on Rapido y Furioso 8 (Fast and Furious 8) when that production blows into town next month. Claudia is amazed at the amount of money Hollywood throws around, for a location that will provide only 10% of the finished film. I responded that I wish I could pay her what they are. 

Production day 1 went without incident--but for a few small snafus, it was similar to a production day back home, except it was easier to park. We had to think on our feet, solve a few problems, but we spent much of the day in the studio of our character, Ivan, well outside the sections of Havana I know. From outside one might not pay it any mind--a concrete building painted a pale yellow, off the potholed street, past a gate and a garage--but inside the place was sumptuous for a studio. A large room greeted us, side lit by windows, with a kitchen and two other spaces, where Ivan's guitars, computers (he has preserved the archaeology of his technological development, even keeping the Mac SE, which he claims still works), photographic equipment and music lives. 

Ivan Soca Pascual's self-portrait.

Ivan Soca Pascual's self-portrait.

Ivan proved a willing subject, is a good raconteur, and speaks from a combination of head and heart. Ernesto Granado, our new cinematographer, knew exactly what to do, mounting the 5D on this handmade concoction of pipes and mounts, to create a primitive but effective shoulder mount for handheld work.

At night, Ivan and a few friends watched Obama's speech, which was an invite-only event with huge security. It was cool to hear them talk about it--they appreciated its warmth and sincerity, and expressed a mixture of optimism and concern for the changes ahead. But there seems to be a good vibe here vis-a-vis the President's speech. Not such a good vibe, however, about the Tampa Bay Rays, the baseball team visiting for a game against the Cuban national squad. Tampa Bay trounced, 4-1.

Watching Cubans watch Obama.

Watching Cubans watch Obama.

Good news though. Although I am still waiting for my press pass, A very nice woman at the Press Center gave me the wi-fi code, which only requires me to be in the vicinity of the Center. Reliable, fast wi-fi is a rarity here, and I am enjoying.

The Obama visit was odd to witness in that, there was very little to witness, unless you were in the press pool. There were no true public events—no throngs of people watching the motorcade pass, no public addresses,  no posters. I scoured several neighborhoods for “Welcome, Señor Obama” signs but nary a one was to be seen. I thought that certainly the shops on Calle Obispo, the tourist street well-known for housing the Floridita Bar, would have some Obama paraphernalia—a shirt, a lighter, a Russian doll inside a doll inside a doll—but I saw none.


The window in a Habana Vieja shop, highlighting some of the week's happenings. The first U.S.-Cuba baseball game since the 90s and of course, the Friday concert by Los Rollings (Stones, that is.)

The window in a Habana Vieja shop, highlighting some of the week's happenings. The first U.S.-Cuba baseball game since the 90s and of course, the Friday concert by Los Rollings (Stones, that is.)

My morning meeting was cancelled today due to road closures--it was impossible to get from my part of Havana to the section where Kadir Lopez, one of the most exciting artists around, lives. Frustrating, but when life gives you lemons....take a walk in Old Havana. 

President Obama and his family toured Old Havana yesterday in the rain, so I expected to see welcome signs, posters, etc. Nada. I saw no evidence that the Obamas were here. He is set to give a speech tomorrow in the classic Alicia Alonso Theater, to the Cuban people and civil society--but only a few have invitations. The closest I'll get is watching the televised speech tomorrow--if they ever announce the time.

A political mural Ken stumbled across.

A political mural Ken stumbled across.

The mural  close up.

The mural  close up.

Strolling on Obispo St., site of the famous Floridita Bar, where Hemingway held court and tourists now out on their bucket lists, I looked for Obama paraphernalia and saw nada, but I did catch a glimpse of Hall-of-Fame baseball player Dave Winfield, here as part of the Major League baseball delegation, and I passed one store that carried a few T-shirts of Los Rollings.

 Tomorrow, barring further road closures, I'll be filming Ivan Soca. Wish me suerte!

Your man in Havana,


LIVE FROM HAVANA, Ken joins Obama, MLB, & the Stones (sort of)

I expected the Jose Marti airport to be swarming with reporters and tourists, as my friend at the Ministry of Culture told me they had received over 1500 requests for press credentials, that main thoroughfares would be closed, and that it would be difficult for me to work. Why not wait, she asked, and come after the hubbub of Obama, Major League Baseball, and Los Rollings (local parlance for the Rolling Stones) has passed? I explained to her that I need to be here to locate the characters in our film on the canvas of this moment. I have asked Cuban friends, shopowners, and police on the street which of the three events is the most significant. Their answers remind me thatthere is no “Cuban people;” there are many Cuban peoples. Some are thrilled to see Los Rollingsperform here for the first time; others are resentful of the reminder of what they have been denied, others want it to be over, others love Obama, others distrust the PR aspect of his visit, others are upset that they cannot secure a ticket to see the Cuban National team play the Tampa Bay Rays in the Estadio Latinoamericano, the temple of Cuban baseball. As always, there is universal agreement that the lifting of the US embargo (yes, it is still very much in place, despite the recent loosening of restrictions vis-a-vis travel and commerce) will lift everyone’s spirits and opportunities. A police officer told me today that Obama’s visit is good for humanity, yet he is just another human, like us.

Ken @ SFO, waiting for his red eye to Cancún.

Ken @ SFO, waiting for his red eye to Cancún.


Within moments of my arrival I met a visiting humanities professor from the University of Yucatan in México; while waiting for our luggage, we made fast friends talking literature, university curriculum, and the upcoming events. He suspects that the visit by Los Rollings may be of greater significance than that of Obama . And upon entering my casa particular (I say “my” because by now it feels like home), the private home I rent while in Havana, Ana, the excellent owner, had fixed a broken light, bought me bottles of water in advance of the rush, and prepared several plates of papaya and pineapple in the fridge. A series of “I love this place” moments.

Arriving at José Marti International.

Arriving at José Marti International.


At the International Press Center I bumped into Cynthia Carris Alonso, who is working on a follow-up to her beautiful book on Cuban artists. She has been working and photographing here for 23 years, and we both marveled at how many journalists are here for the first time, with no Cuba experience and little or no Spanish. Another affirmation of the importance of our project—to hear about Cuba from the Cuban point of view.

Planning our shoot with photographer, Ivan Soca Pascual. He has one of the few Cuban press passes to cover Los Rollings (as the Stones are known in Cuba). You can check out his photos at #ivansoca on Facebook.

Planning our shoot with photographer, Ivan Soca Pascual. He has one of the few Cuban press passes to cover Los Rollings (as the Stones are known in Cuba). You can check out his photos at #ivansoca on Facebook.

Ivan Soca tracking the building of the immense stage for Los Rollings concert on Friday.

Ivan Soca tracking the building of the immense stage for Los Rollings concert on Friday.


The Obamas are set to arrive sometime today, although information is scarce. If there will be a motorcade with throngs of cheering people on the streets, it will be unannounced. And today the area where he, his entourage, and the journalists are staying (just a few blocks from my casa) is oddly quiet. I suspect a bit more of a throng tomorrow.

That's all for now.


Your man in Havana

(R)EVOLUTION CUBA: History of an idea

Years before all the buzz over Cuba, before Mick Jagger, Will Smith, Andrew Bourdain, Conan O’Brien, and President Obama arrived, Peabody Award-winning producer/director Ken Schneider of PatchWorks Films was filming there.

On location in Cuba for HAVANA CURVEBALL, 2011.

On location in Cuba for HAVANA CURVEBALL, 2011.

When Ken boarded the plane for Havana in December 2014 to showcase his documentary HAVANA CURVEBALL  at the International Film Festival, he thought it was the end of his Cuba work. Little did he know that his film would screen on the very day Presidents Obama and Castro made their historic announcement of a diplomatic shift between their estranged countries. Remarkably, that screening led to an invitation to tour the island with Todas Contracorriente, a group of Cuban pop stars, Olympic athletes, and thought leaders addressing domestic violence by changing attitudes toward machismo.  

PatchWorks' Marcia and Ken with Todas Contracorriente including Cuban music legends David Blanco and Rochy in Santa Clara, Cuba.

PatchWorks' Marcia and Ken with Todas Contracorriente including Cuban music legends David Blanco and Rochy in Santa Clara, Cuba.


For 2-weeks Ken and fellow director/producer, Marcia Jarmel, had the privilege of riding a bus with these cutting edge Cubans, and listening, and what they heard were stories nowhere to be found in the U.S. media. Thus began their journey to make, (R)EVOLUTION CUBA. We expect to begin production later in the spring of 2016.

Rev Cuba logo.jpg

(R)EVOLUTION CUBA will be a series of short documentaries profiling Cuban artists navigating the tricky evolution of their country. “We chose to focus on artists,” said Schneider, “because Cuba has an inverse relationship to the U.S. when it comes to the arts.  Unlike countries where art is a fringe activity, in Cuba art is central to national identity.” The small island of 12 million people has outsized influence in dance and music around the world. At the cultural vanguard in any country, artists are some of Cuba's most salient ambassadors, with a history of crossing divides created by the 50-plus year embargo. To bring currency into an ailing economy, Cuban artists have been among the first to have opportunities to travel, to sell and perform their work, and for some, to push the limits of free expression. “Our characters have life experiences unique among Cubans and eye-opening to outsiders.  Their stories are just so provocative, and visually compelling. That’s why we are excited to share them,” explained Jarmel.

To learn the rest of their story and watch the (R)EVOLUTION CUBA trailer, visit: http://www.patchworksfilms.net/revolution-cuba.

What do Mick Jagger, Barack Obama, and PatchWorks have in common?

The answer: Cuba, March 2016 . . . if our Kickstarter campaign is successful.

Barack is definitely going. The Rolling Stones are doing a Latin American tour and have not announced a date in Cuba yet, but we think they just might. And Ken is scheduled to shoot and edit the first short in the (R)EVOLUTION CUBA series next month.  

Many thanks to the 144 of you for ponying up already and  reaching out across your networks. We're in the final push to make our goal. We have 10 days to go in this all or nothing campaign.   If you haven't yet watched our trailer, will you check it out and see if you lend support. A donation? An introduction to someone who can help? A post?  Info found at: bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs.

Here are some sample posts below, we'd love you to share.

#CUBA #ART #SOCIALISM #MARKET #CHANGE @PatchWorks Films launches short doc series. Trailer @ bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs Plz RT!


Join me in supporting @PatchWorks Films new (Revolution #Cuba #film --#art for the people collides with market forces. Trailer and info @ bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs. 


Rum. Jazz. Vintage Cars. We think we know Cuba. We hear about shortages, lack of opportunities, expected regime change, refugees and lucrative business deals. Lost is the remarkable debate where revolutionary ideals face off against the market's seduction. In Cuba, where 98% of the people are literate, have healthcare, a home, and free education, artists are not fringe. They are vanguard and they are in a quandry. Opportunity vs. free expression vs. socialism. How will they choose? Or can they have it all? (R)EVOLUTION CUBA brings you six short film stories of artists at the heart of an evolving nation.


If you are in the Bay Area, please joining us for one of two free events (and invite your friends!):

El Oso, featured in WHEEL OF LIFE. Sneak Preview screenings.

El Oso, featured in WHEEL OF LIFE. Sneak Preview screenings.


CUBA NIGHT: Feb. 23 - Berkeley - FREE

We will be screening a sneak preview of our upcoming short film THE WHEEL OF LIFE, featuring El Oso, one of the founders of Casino (the unheralded godmother of salsa), and hosting a discussion of the intersection of art, socialism and the market in contemporary Cuba.  Post-screening Q & A with the filmmakers, Marcia Jarmel & Ken Schneider, Malia Everette of Altruvistas, and UC Berkeley Lecturer Elizabeth Vasile, Ph.D. RSVP and details at:bit.ly/revcubaberkeley.



The beloved Bissap Baobab in San Francisco’s Mission District is hosting a free salsa party, and has generously offered to donate 20% of the night's proceeds to (R)EVOLUTION CUBA!Admission is free before 10pm. If you want to join a select few for a West African dinner with us, back (R)EVOLUTION CUBA at the $100 or higher level at bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs.    RSVP and details at: bit.ly/baobabsalsaWe'll be screening WHEEL OF LIFE at 7. Dancing starts at 8.


If you haven't checked out the art perks we have, consider upping your contribution to own original photos, music, signed books at  bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs.  


Rochy was rock start David Blanco on the Todas Contracorriente tour with PatchWorks last spring.

Rochy was rock start David Blanco on the Todas Contracorriente tour with PatchWorks last spring.

New today is a CD of beloved Cuban singer-songwriter, Rochy. Virtually impossible to find outside Cuba, this music will knock on your heart's door. We had the pleasure of meeting and touring with Rochy and her colleagues last spring in Cuba.  We're thrilled to be sharing her music here.

Questions, suggestions, ideas? Let us know. info@patchworksfilms.net.


PatchWorks Events in SF & Berkeley!

Dear Friends,

We are delighted to report that our crowdfunding effort to support our new series, (R)EVOLUTION CUBA: Stories of Art and Change, is steaming along. As we approach the halfway point this weekend, we are within reach of 50% of our goal. Many thanks to our incredibly generous supporters who’ve jumped in already. If you’re considering becoming a backer, please take a look at the trailer and see if it’s something you’d like to support: bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs.  

To celebrate, share our work, and deepen conversation on what’s happening in Cuba right now, we are hosting two Bay Area events:

CUBA NIGHT: February 23 in Berkeley - FREE

We will be screening a sneak preview of our upcoming short film THE WHEEL OF LIFE, featuring El Oso, one of the founders of Casino (the unheralded godmother of salsa), and hosting a discussion of the intersection of art, socialism and the market in contemporary Cuba.  

RSVP and details at: bit.ly/revcubaberkeley

Film, Salsa, and Celebration: February 24 in San Francisco

The beloved Bissap Baobab in SF’s Mission District is hosting a free salsa party and has generously offered to donate 20% of the night's proceeds! Admission is free before 10pm.  If you want to join a select few for a West African dinner with us, back (R)EVOLUTION CUBA at the $100 or higher level @bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs.

RSVP and details at: bit.ly/baobabsalsa

We hope to see you here or there, and welcome your tax-deductible donations any way that’s easy.


Ken and Marcia

P.S. Our friends Gaby and Drew hosted an incredible party to introduce us and our project to their pals. We’d love to meet your friends too, and share more about our work. Email info@patchworksfilms.net to host your own Kickstarter Party.

Featured image: El Oso, featured in WHEEL OF LIFE.

Kickstart Revolution Cuba - with a $500 MATCH!

Hello from PatchWorks Films!

Today is day 5 of our Kickstarter launch, and we can't thank you enough for your generosity in contributing to our (R)EVOLUTION CUBA project.

Your support has already helped us reach almost 8% on Kickstarter--a huge boost to our launch. 

TODAY ONLY, a generous donor has offered a $500 matching gift. If we can raise $200 in donations by midnight tonight, those gifts will be doubled!

Deadline:  Wednesday, Feb 03, 11:50pm EST - $500 MATCH!

We need your help spreading the word!

Crowdfunding is a way audiences can help create the films they want to see. You are an essential collaborator.


  • Share our trailer with your friends and network bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs

  • Back us at any level. Every contribution gets us closer to our goal and builds momentum for the project.

  • Share our page with your social network.  We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

  • Help us broaden our network.  Forward our email to a handful of friends and let them know why you are backing the project. Introduce us to a friend who is a patron of the arts, has a family foundation, writes for a relevant blog or publication, or works at a related organization.

  • Host a house party. Invite a few friends over for mojitos to screen a sneak preview of WHEEL OF LIFE and watch our Kickstarter trailer. We'll join you, if we can, or Skype in for a Q & A if we can't. Email info@patchworksfilms.net for details.

Social media is a huge part of crowdfunding. Help us get the word out by posting on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t forget to tag PatchWorks Films on Faceook, and @pwcubafilms on Twitter!

For easy sharing, we’ve created sample posts below, so tweet, post, and share away!


#CUBA #ART #SOCIALISM #MARKET #CHANGE @PatchWorks Films launches short doc series bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs Plz RT!

Check out @PatchWorks Films new project (R)evolution #Cuba #film -#art for the people collides with market forces. Watch the trailer: bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs

Facebook post:

Check out Revolution Cuba trailer, and support @PatchWorks Films new project! bit.ly/revolutioncubadocs

Rum. Jazz. Vintage Cars. We think we know Cuba. We hear about shortages, lack of opportunities, expected regime change, refugees and lucrative business deals. Lost is the remarkable debate where revolutionary ideals face off against the market's seduction. In Cuba, where 98% of the people are literate, have healthcare, a home, and free education, artists are not fringe. They are vanguard and they are in a quandry. Opportunity vs. free expression vs. socialism. How will they choose? Or can they have it all? (R)EVOLUTION CUBA brings you six short film stories of artists at the heart of an evolving nation.

Useful Hashtags: #‎cuba‬ #art ‬‪#‎film‬ ‪#‎cubadocs‬ ‪#‎revcuba‬ ‪#‎kickstarter

We’re so grateful to have you on our PatchWorks Films team!

Live from Havana - Day 7

Havana Day 7

After my morning rite of logging in to the nearby wi-fi hotspot, I meet San Francisco pals Debby, Boaz, Tal and Idan Arzt-Mor, just in for a few weeks of vacation. Trying not to act like a grizzled veteran (I’m not, actually, I still love this place, just a little less agape), we strolled until we found a local restaurant, consisting of a counter, a few tiny tables, and the odd chair. A fish and rice plate later, and I was off again to Roberto Salas’ house where I wanted to share a creative idea with him, one that came to me on the previous day’s shoot, involving GIF files, new to a 75-year old photographer schooled in the darkroom. He took to it well, and we decided we would connect again. He explained his creative process. He’ll have an idea that germinates, gestates, iterates, and eventually flies away or becomes solid enough to warrant a photograph, or a series. “Send me a script,” he said, when I asked if he wanted to be profiled for our series. I gently reminded him that our documentaries are not shot to script, and he laughed. It’s always fun to talk to him, as he has stories, and more stories.

Spent an excellent afternoon with Kadir Lopez, a mixed-media artist with a very cool studio in the Kohly district. He did a large format (3 or four feet square) piece called Havana Monopoly: Deluxe Edition, a monopoly board where the spaces are occupied by old hotels, mafia men, and bond certificates of the companies that used to run the island. He has also taken old metal signs from the companies (large Coca-Cola, Texaco, Esso, etc), in various stages of elegant decay, and printed, painted, and lacquered collages of similar iconography. Powerful stuff. Apparently Will Smith and Jada Pinkett strolled in on their way from the airport and were so taken by the place that they asked if Kadir had an extra room. Being Cuban, he said yes, and they stayed for three days, while their luggage waited at their hotel.

Kadir is the subject of one our films, and his current project centers on repairing the marquee lights of theaters throughout the city. He calls it, bringing light to the dark. He is a neon artist, among other things, and he fired up the flames to give me a little demo. We shot a small bit of material and said farewell, sure that our paths would cross again soon.

My last jazz show (or so I thought) was at the National Theater—a fabulous performance by the Gastón Joya Trio: Gastón on bass, Rodney Barreto on drums (I sat with Rodney’s mom, whom I met last year) and Rolando Luna ticklin’ the keys. After lingering a bit to talk, I was about to head home to pack my things when I was seduced into one last trip to the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, where the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans was ending their three weeks here. I ended up hanging out with Danny Scher of the Bill Graham Foundation, who had been to Cuba many times but not to the Fábrica. I gave him my version of the tour and we saw a very fun performance by Preservation Hall, whom I had last seen in New Orleans around 1988. It was quite crowded and sweaty, and I was reminded of some of Kerouac’s descriptions of jazz and blues clubs in On the Road.

When I say a week is not enough, I’m not referring to the things I wish I had seen or done. I am referring to my hunger to be culturally embedded here. Visiting artists in their studios, visiting people in their homes for conversation, food and drink—this is the stuff of Cuba. This was my seventh trip, and every day I bump into someone I know on the street—one of the techs from last spring’s tour of Havana Curveball, a cinematographer, someone involved in the arts or music, someone I met at the Fábrica. My next trip must be longer. When I return in March, I need a full month, to experience life at the Cuban rhythm, continue what feels like a long and not easy process to retrain my ear to better understand the Cuban version of Spanish (not the same language I spoke as a student in Spain the 80s), and, of course, to make our films at a leisurely pace.

Hasta luego,


Live from Havana - Day 5, Day 6

Havana Day 5

Today I visited the studio of Zaida del Rio, one of the country’s best known artists, who showed us some beautiful new work. Her son was in the middle of a canvas as well; nice to see the family business going strong. Bought a small piece for a special friend having health challenges—it was one of those, this painting reminds me of you moments.

For some reason breakfast never materialized, and I was starving by the time I arrived at Roberto Salas’ house for lunch. He and his excellent wife prepared an exquisite lunch of shrimp and lobster for Rick, Carolina Sanchez of the Ministry of Culture, and myself. Roberto nearly choked when he saw the amount of Tabasco I put on my rice. I am desperate for heat in my food here, as the Cuban palate likes it “3” on the 1-10 scale of spicy. Always the raconteur, Roberto had a story or two to tell. Born in the Bronx, chased away by the FBI, he landed in Cuba as a teenager in the 50s and ended up taking some of the most iconic photos of the era. His current work is stunning, and he has an opinion about everything.

After a pre-production meeting with Chile, our cinematographer, I had to make the tough decision to forego an ungodly jazz show to return home and finish prepping for the next day’s shoot. I did a fair amount of agonizing as my maquina, a 1956, smelly blue Dodge, rambled past the Teatro Mella, which beckoned me. But the work ethic won out—this time. Did not want to show up on location with people asking, “what?” and my having no response.

And it was a good thing. I was a bit slow on my feet at the start of the shoot the following morning. Ivan Soca was our subject. Ivan has photographed Cuban musicians from Silvio Rodriguez to Los Van Van to Leo Brauer to Cuba’s greatest singers. An incisive guy with critical sensibilities and a winning laugh, Ivan talks about the economía solidaria (barter economy, basically), a concept we tried to use at lunch when the bill arrived; his years as a diplomat’s son in Berlin when the wall fell, and his beloved Lancia, one of the few Italian autos on the island. We had an excellent shoot, with Chile lovingly recording the car’s details and capturing life through Ivan’s lens.

FIga, our sound recordist, and Luz, his lovely partner, were married tonight in a recently rehabbed church in Vedado.  The chorus sang from a terrace that wrapped around three sides of the chapel, and had an other-worldly feel, as we could not see them. I still cry at weddings

I managed to squeeze in a little jazz. For some reason, Billy Gibbons opened , and in this context I found his band quite boring. 4:4 rock with marginal lyricsjust cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cuban jazz. But I’ll give them this—they did a rocking encore of Whole Lotta Love, singing the chorus in Spanish (“Got mucho amor, “mucho amor,” etc.).

Tomorrow is my last full day here, and I’m meeting two potential characters for our series, (R)evolution Cuba: Stories of Art and Change.


Live from Havana - Day 4

Havana Day 4

Had breakfast with Denise Guerra, a cinematographer who works with our pal Alejandro Ramirez Anderson. She shot a film I love, One child, One School, which profiles one of the 60 + schools in the countryside where there is only 1 child of school age. Pursuant to the country’s national education promise, each of these villages has a schoolhouse, where the teacher and child raise the flag, do lessons, sing, eat lunch together, finish their school day, and often walk home together.

While waiting on Havana Vieja for a friend, I happened upon Hector Drago,  a teacher and photographer (this place is full of creators) who I met while making Havana Cureveball Hector is one of the men who engage in spirited discussions about baseball everySunday, waxing philosophic about umpires, the out-migration of players to the US, and their beloved home team, Los Industriales, currently in second place of Phase 2 of this season.

Rick Swig and I checked out Raices, our cinematographer Roberto Chile’s beautiful photo essay on the Afro-Cuban communities on the island. Beautiful textures of the dance, song and rituals brought and maintained by former slaves whose culture survives and flourishes throughout Cuba. The photos captivated me and inspired me with some ideas for (R)evolution Cuba, our series of short films about contemporary Cuban artists.

The day’s highlight may have been a private concert at the studio of Choco, one of the giants of Cuban art. Surrounded by Choco’s painting and sculpture,  Aldo and Ruy jammed, backed up by an acoustic guitar and electric bass. As we say at Passover, Dayenu. If that had been my only experience here, it would have been enough.

But of course, there was more, as there always is here, especially the week of the Jazz Festival. Yasek Manzano and Yssy’s band tore up the stage at the Bertolt Brecht theater. I sat with Rebecca Mauleon of SF Jazz Center; I hope she is able to program a Cuban Jazz Fest in our city.

After, I paid a late night visit to the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, the world’s best art space, where I hung out with journalist/filmmakers Reed Lindsay and Jehane Hafez, who have been making films about human rights and political change around the world, tracking the Arab Spring, Gaza, acid attacks on women in India, and here in Cuba, the changing landscape of baseball, where this week a delegation of US players are visiting, giving free clinics to young ballplayers.

- Ken

Live from Havana - Day 3

Havana Day 3

Every travel experience seems to have a day of cancelled appointments and near misses--today was that day. It started well, with breakfast with Scottish filmmaker pal Eirene Houston, whom I met at last year's Havana Film Festival. Her film, The Cuban Way, tells of the exuberance of contemporary Cuban dance. A cancellation suddenly freed up my afternoon, which allowed me to take the long walk up 23rd, where I had the worst pizza I have ever eaten (most of the Cuban pizza I've had is quite tasty) and discovered a vendor who sold me some of X Alfonso's CDs, including his fabulous reinterpretation of Beny Moré. 

Our pal and Executive Producer Rick Swig mounted his first ever photo exhibit at Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and..well, you know), named after the iconic Cuban film from the 90s. Great jazz by the Lopez-Nussa brothers and Yaroldi on percussion, with Aldo Lopez-Gavilan sitting in for a few tunes, sore shoulder and all. Their music is beautiful and their joy is infectious. I am still moved that people can express such a range of deep emotion through music. The sound coming out of their piano sounds nothing like what I hear in my living room--no offense to my family. Roberto Chile, master cinematographer and close collaborator was in the house, along with Ever Fonseca, one of Cuba's finest painters, Roberto Salas, whose photography tells the story of Cuba from the 50s to the present, Mundo Piña of Los Van Van, and a host of other music, art and photography masters. I left feeling the warm embrace of the Cuban arts community, and headed for dinner at our friends Shona (formerly of San Francisco) and Paver's California Cafe.  Am currently writing on La Rampa, one of Cuba's first public wi-fi hotspots and a nightly party. People of all ages manage their facebook pages and communicate with loved ones on and off the island. One can buy an card (similar to a phone card) for hourly access, or find a resourceful hacker who can connect you through an ap on their laptop. Someone will surely soon write a dissertation on internet access on the island; for now, people withmodest means can log on

Jazz fest officially opens tomorrow night, and i plan to be there.

- Ken

Live from Havana

Havana Day 2

At breakfast with our Cuban line producer Claudia, she reminds me that we can criticize our own families, but when an outsider does so, it can carry a sting. It’s a reminder of how much I don’t know. Every moment here I learn more about the island and have more questions. Many things work well here—important things, like healthcare, education, and an ongoing creative evolution which manifests in the arts. And many here readily tell me, habían errors—we’ve made mistakes--which often catalyzes interesting discussions about the mistakes made in each of our homelands.

By chance we bumped into Inti Herrera Nuñez, a filmmaker who produced  John de Los Muertos (Juan of the Dead), a wicked satire masquerading as Cuba’s first zombie film. Inti also works at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano (The Cuban Art factory), the best multi-art space I have ever seen. We set a date for lunch later in the week.

I deliver a Zoom F8 state-of-the-art audio recorder to Figa, a dear friend and sound recordist for all of our Cuba films. He thinks it is the first one on the island, and will be a valuable part of his equipment package. Figa is in the process of constructing a 5.1 sound studio in his family home to design and mix sound for film. We talk about our approaches to sound work and discover much common ground; Figa eschews the literal for the evocative. He shows me a beautiful film he mixed which tells the incredible story of a woman who survived Franco’s bombing, the battle of Leningrad, and domestic abuse, before arriving in Cuba in 1963. When I return in March, we plan to mixLa Rueda de La Vida (The Wheel of Life), our short film homage to the founders of Casino, the mother dance of salsa.

Our Executive Producer, Rick Swig, is in country for the Jazz Festival, and invites me to an incredible jam session headed by Harold Lopez-Nussa, one of Cuba’s finest young pianists. Harold has agreed to compose music for our series of shorts about artists, Revolution Cuba, and he and I start the dialogue about music styles for our films. On stage he is joined by an impressive array of musicians, including his brother Ruy (drums), Rodney Barreto (drums), Aldo Lopez-Gavilan (piano), David Sanchez (sax), Michael Braud (trumpeter for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band), and Rebecca Mauleon, who sits in on piano. Rebecca is the Education Director at the San Francisco Jazz Center and an accomplished musician. One of the best jazz concerts I have seen, period. Happiness.

After a dinner at our friend Javier’s house, where his two young daughters and I entertain each other over fried chicken and paper fortune-tellers (remember those? My finger memory remembers them, and I taught the girls how to make them), I met Ivan Soca for a soda. Ivan has photographed every Cuban musician from los Van Van to Silvio Rodriguez, and he is the subject of one of the portraits inRevolution Cuba. His story is wonderful, and includes bringing in one of the only Italian Lancias on the isle. A diplomat’s son, Ivan lived in Berlin and Prague for over 10 years, witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall. Returning to Cuba in the 90s, he has a keen international sensibility, and he will be a great collaborator. We start to design shots, talk lenses and angles, and I am excited. Very excited.

- Ken

Live from Havana

Havana, Day 1

The airport in Cancun is both a transition from San Francisco to Cuba and a cautionary tale. The food court screams out, Johnny Rockets! Starbucks! California Pizza Kitchen!  And the ubiquitous Duty Free, where I buy a few small bottles of American Whiskey for friends in Cuba.  In my day long journey, necessary due to the difficulties of travelling under the embargo (the embargo still exists, in spite of Presidents Obama and Raul Castro agreeing to loosen restrictions and move towards “normalization” of relations), gave me much time to meet a Spanish artist,  a Brazilian-American professor of Informatics, and members of the growing cadre of American tourists and travellers racing to Cuba “before it’s too late.” I assure them that Cuba’s transition will be incremental, and many of the things I love about this island—the music, dance, sport, and the joie de vivre—are not going anywhere. Or so I hope, being an optimist.

My good friend Javier met me at the Jose Marti airport with his older son, who does the lights and sound for Javier’s comedy performances. Javier is always my first contact on the island, and he fills me in on his family (his wife gives birth to a boy in 5 months!), the new photo exhibitions of our friends Rick Swig and Roberto Chile, and my Cuban cel phone, which he uses when I am not in country. As always, his young daughters have erased my contacts.

After settling into my casa particular, an apartment rented out by a local in Havana’s Vedado district (pre-Air B n B, Cubans have rented out extra rooms or empty homes to travellers for years), I meet my friend Ernesto Wong for dinner. Ernesto is a professor of linguistics at the University of Havana, is fluent in Spanish, English and French, and has a keen understanding of our cultural similarities and differences. He also serves as my translator, helpjng me not only with language but with cross-cultural subtleties that I sometimes miss. Our conversation sprawls from language stylistics to voting in Cuba and the U.S. (always interesting to see our system through the lens of an outsider) and the confluence of art, Cuba, the encroaching market, and free expression.

Saying goodnight, I strolled to La Rampa, one of Cuba’s first wi-fi hotspots, to check e-mails. Monday night is fairly slow at La Rampa; later in the week this 4-block corridor will be filled with people on their laptops and cels, communicating with friends and family on and off the island, gaming, managing their facebook pages.

Back in my casa a little after midnight, I discover that Anisa, the owner of the casa, had left a plate of sliced papaya, pineapple and guava in the fridge. I love this island.

- Ken