Much ado has been made about Papa: Hemingway In Cuba and its status as the first Hollywood production shot in Cuba since 1959, but the worthy project is not by any means the first American film to be shot on the island since diplomatic relations went sour some 60 years ago. In fact, an innumerable list of documentaries and even some shorts have been shot over the years by U.S. directors with varying levels of legal authorization, and on May 4, U.S. cinenerds will finally be treated to the premiere of an indie American feature shot on the island years before Obama and Raúl even announced their new diplomatic love affair.
Sin Alas is the second feature from guerrilla phenom Ben Chace whose 2009 feature Wah Do Dem took him to neighboring Jamaica for a charming story about a young loner on a cruise ship filled with elderly vacationers. Shot with a skeleton crew on a micro budget, Wah Do Dem was featured at a handful of prestigious festivals and even won the Filmmaker Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for Chace and co-director Sam Fleischner. Sin Alas takes Chace back to the Caribbean where he adapted the labyrinthine stories of Jorge Luis Borges and the Baroque headtrip poetry of Cuban José Lezama Lima into the context of 21st century Cuba.
The feature was shot in similarly precarious conditions, and Chace made the risky decision of filming the whole thing on 16mm film stock, meaning he wasn’t even able to see the material until they packed up the production and headed back to New York. Looking at the trailer, we can see how this gamble paid off in the film’s textured, nostalgic look, which lends a touch of romanticism to the story of an elderly man rocked by the death of a woman he once loved. The sentimental storyline is also a point of entry for Chace to explore both the past and present of Cuba’s revolutionary society in a way free of many of the clichés we’ve come to expect from American visions of the island. Add a lively rumba soundtrack composed by Aruan Ortiz along with some powerful performances by some of Cuba’s brightest stars, and Sin Alas promises to be a must see for New York cinephiles.