Inside the Making of Love & Suicide
A love story made in Cuba without the permission of either government, September 6
A critic's interview about the making of the history-making film Love & Suicide cast and crew, on their accomplishment in filming a feature length film in Havana, Cuba without the expressed consent of either government.
Published on LatinoLA: September 1, 2008
After their film Anne B. Real, which was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, had been accepted into the Havana International Film Festival, producer-writer Luis Moro and writer-director Lisa France played with the idea of shooting a feature film during the scheduled 21-day stay allowed by their visas. Their travel to Cuba direct from JFK and their return to Miami were legally permitted under the U.S. embargo of 1960, but they asked neither government for permission to shoot a film there.
Love & Suicide began as a screenplay that their experiences in Cuba radically changed. Director Lisa France refers to the film as a "no budget" project. The principals -- including France, Luis Moro and his pregnant wife Barbara Miller-Moro, cinematographer Demian Lichtenstein (carrying a shoebox-sized digital camera, two wireless mics and "flashlights" with a small saucer reflector for lighting), and actors Kamar de los Reyes and Daisy McCrackin -- basically paid their own way to the film festival and made Love & Suicide as a gratuitous bonus adventure. The forty hours of unedited scenes that were shot in the streets, parks, and buildings of Old Havana were produced after cast and crew kept their commitments to the daily events of the film festival.
The original script was written as a romantic comedy, but what developed in the process of being in Cuba radically altered the plot, theme, and tone of the project. The change came about by actor Kamar de los Reyes's emotional confession that his estranged father had been a famous Cuban percussionist, and that he wanted to visit the tenement building where his father had once lived. In a documentary moment, the camera followed Kamar into the building for a real-life surprise encounter with the daughter of his father's best friend who still occupied the apartments. The revelations were deeply felt, and Lisa says that the crew wept through the original encounter. Later, they would re-shoot the scene with Kamar and Daisy in character in a total revision of the film's original concept.
Luis Moro was born in Cuba, but his parents immigrated to the Cuban exile community in Union City, New Jersey in 1968 when he was very young. When he became a filmmaker, Luis longed to go on location in Cuba. The irresistible opportunity came when his film Anne B. Real, adapted from the Anne Frank story, was accepted into the Havana Film Festival.
Director and co-writer Lisa France watched documentary footage of Havana and was especially influenced visually by the satirical black-and-white Cuban film Death of a Bureaucrat. Luis, who plays the central role of Alberto, the Havana taxi driver, remarks to Tom?ís, the suicidal American played by Kamar de los Reyes, that, "You Americans are so spoiled. You don't know how good you have it there." While shooting, Lisa was aware that Cubans have very little social or travel mobility. "All they have is their family," she said. "There is a sadness in the American personality because we are never satisfied. We are often shameful about our social positions, but the people that I met in Cuba did not have any shame in their eyes. They face you directly, and they are very proud of who they are. And their generosity is profound. In the States, we have comparatively everything. In Cuba, where they have so little, they are still glad to share. It is a very humbling experience to be the recipient of a poor person's generosity.
"And Cubans are not enamored with American visitors. We don't impress them with our apparent wealth. I told Luis that when I look into their faces, I see my best self. The accumulation of stuff has nothing to do about being happy. Their dignity in the face of impoverished circumstances is very moving."
Despite the reputation of being a police state, filming in Cuba for the cast and crew of Love & Suicide went unchallenged. Lisa recalls. "No one ever questioned us about our activity except one time when we were filming Kamar, playing drunk, being soaked by waves crashing over the famous Malecon seawall. A police officer stopped to make sure that Kamar was okay. Luis explained that Kamar was only acting drunk for the camera, a big joke, and the policeman then went on his way. We were careful not to photograph any police or military activity, but otherwise, we felt undeterred from filming anywhere.
"Here's the deal. Cubans that we met don't have a problem with America. Our country has the problem with Cuba. And when we returned from Havana to New Jersey and went through customs, our camera was inspected, and the person carrying it was interrogated. When our guy said that we had shot film at the film festival, we got all our equipment and tapes through."
Returning to California, Luis and Lisa had to make The Unseen (that was already financed) for income, so the footage shot in Cuba was put aside. While Lisa was working post-production on The Unseen, Luis began re-scripting the story for Love & Suicide and conforming an edit to support it. Luis's effort was a drastic departure from their original film idea, but it worked, and Lisa enthusiastically supported the finished product.
Lisa says that she depends on a theatre audience to tell her if her film is good or not. At AMC theatres in Miami, Lisa says that she felt humbled by the positive responses of audience members. People did not know her connection to the film when they spoke to her about it. "I'm not even Cuban," one person said to her, "and I loved this film." Lisa observed theatres full of people who gave the film rapt attention and then applauded as the credits ran. "It was a very sweet experience."
In consulting on Luis's voiceover as Alberto, Lisa discussed the primary reason she believes is behind every contemplated suicide: regret. Survival is about dealing with regret. The character Tom?ís's triumph is that he overcomes suicidal regret. He overcomes regret with romantic love and by the rediscovery of his family and cultural roots. In contemporary filmmaking, Independent films seem best suited to deliver on seriously introspective subjects. That they are able to do so while entertaining, like Love & Suicide, is a tribute to both creative imagination and cinematic craft.
Diplomacy of the Heart in Cuba
What you don't know about Cuba might surprise you. Havana, with a population of 2.2 million people, is the largest city in the Caribbean. The Spanish Colonial architecture of Old Havana is a living museum of over 100,000 people. Although only one of every sixth building is considered in good condition, and the living accommodations are reminiscent of barrio tenements, the literacy rate is nearly 100 percent, and the streets there are safe and full of colorful activity.
The sense of time warp back to the 1950s that you feel in old Havana is enhanced by the preponderance of classic American cars from that period on the cobblestone streets. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, social equality dictated that no one should drive a new car. That mandate was aided by the U. S. embargo of Cuba in 1960, which was further tightened in June 2004 as an anti-terrorism measure. The classic 1953 maroon Chevrolet sedan that the character Alberto drives in Love & Suicide is a still-functioning relic of the pre-revolution period.
The current U.S. embargo prevents U.S. residents, as well as over one million Cuban expatriates living in the U.S., from visiting Cuba except by rarely granted licenses from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Applications that are approved generally involve research scholars, journalists, and humanitarian aid workers. Nevertheless, travel agents send tens of thousands of unlicensed U.S. visitors via flights from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean to Cuba every year. The Cuban government grants tourist visas to all comers, although the embargo also makes it illegal for U.S. tourists to spend money in Cuba or to receive gifts.
If you are caught violating licensed or unlicensed travel like Luis Moro, you will receive an official letter by certified mail titled "Requirement to Furnish Information" from the Investigations and Enforcement Office of Foreign Assets Control. The letter threatens that "violations of Regulations may result in civil and/or criminal penalties." A five-page "required" information report form is enclosed, which is due twenty business days after receipt. The form has sixteen interrogative demands that include proof of occupation, detailed travel schedule with receipts for every element of transportation and every accommodation and meal, plus full disclosure of travel companions and everyone encountered during the visit. Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the travel ban imposed by the embargo is unconstitutional, the bureaucratic agencies of the U.S. government persist in their attempt to enforce the licensing provision based on the continued ban on spending. In other words, it is your constitutional right to travel to Cuba, but it is illegal for you to spend any money there.
Luis Moro noted in his letter to the OFAC that the demand for travel information was a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and that the conduct of the OFAC was discriminatory, arbitrary, and capricious and also in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. With tens of thousands of American tourists in violation of the embargo, why the effort to intimidate a filmmaker in the free expression of his art?
Love & Suicide was not intended as a political statement, but the viewing of the film, which the OFAC did not do, has potential political consequences as it exhibits a diplomacy of the heart. Governments are often not representative of their peoples. Family life in a cultural context occurs with or without government consent. In many ways, the daily expression of community in its passionate relationships of mutual support in both love and grief is the heart of a country, not its political infrastructure. Politicians come and go while the identity of the people remains and endures. The focus on governments is thus a false picture of any people confined within a nationalistic label. Politicians want power and control. The people want peace and the freedom to express their creative potential within their culture.
In Love & Suicide there is a definite contrast between the success driven culture of the United States, as represented by Tom?ís and Nina, and the family dependent culture of Cuba as represented by Alberto. The Americans who have every material advantage are desperately disconnected and unhappy while the Cubans of Old Havana, although appearing desperate of means in a modern world, find the joys in everyday living. This contrast is not a stereotyping of Latin lifestyles although Alberto accuses the suicidal Tom?ís of being in "Latin denial" because he cannot relax and embrace his cultural legacy.
In the tenements of the Cuban community, life goes on as it does in urban tenements and towns and villages all over the world. Mothers and fathers raise their children with the same sense of devotion and responsibility whatever the socio-economic conditions unless those conditions become so negatively extreme that people are driven to violence and ultimately to insanity. In states of violent chaos, the choice seems to be between love or suicide.
In Love & Suicide Tom?ís is given the space to choose. Both love and suicide are real. One path is filled with support and redemption. The other is the ultimate finality, the end of decision-making. The genius of the film is that viewers explore this choice on an emotional level rather than on an intellectual one. Love & Suicide is not a documentary essay. It is rather the enlightenment that we have a choice to come back from the brink of self-destruction.
Violence in any form is an introduction to suicide. For individuals as well as nations, violence engenders retribution. Violence invites a calamitous end. Violence projected is the cause of violence returned. The Golden Rule is not about right behavior as much as it is a statement of natural law. What we do to others is returned to us in kind. When will we join Alberto in the diplomacy of the heart?
In their efforts to attract a distributor who would give Love & Suicide a wide release, Luis and Producer Peter Maez, a fellow filmmaker of Cuban ancestry, took the film to film festivals and to limited test screenings. The test screenings in Miami, however, ran eight weeks in AMC Theatres and did very well in the market for that period. The film also had a two-week run in Los Angeles in November (2006).
In Miami, to the amazement of the audiences, Luis and Peter personally introduced the film and then stood at the exits to get audience reactions and to thank them for supporting the film. The word of mouth then filled the seats for the entire run.
Audience reactions to Love & Suicide in random post-screening interviews were very positive. Selective quotes include: "It was a piece of life that moved me. As believable as a documentary. Incredible as a film made from stolen shots. Insightful to see what Cuba is really like. Amazing to hear Cuban people speak their own wisdom. Haven't seen anything quite like it. Natural acting and beautiful images of Cuba. I have to go to Havana now."
Matt Hernandez, 47, saw the film in a New York City screening at the HBO Latin Film Festival. Matt was born in Cuba and returns to visit family. He has seen many of the foreign films shot in Cuba, although surprised that it was American made, and he considers Love & Suicide the best.
"The local conversations, the lingo, they did a tremendous job. The character Alberto is everybody's friend. Everybody from Havana knows an Alberto. This film captured the pride and dignity of our people. Politics aside, we saw the real Cuba."
Matt saw the film again in Miami, and he called his mother in Cuba to tell her about it. "I want Mommy to see it. It is that important. They hit a home run when they made that film."
Mel Gorham, an actress who has starred opposite Harvey Keitel and acted in support of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, and Robin Williams, met Luis Moro in the late 1990s, and they became simpatico as the children of Cuban-born mothers. Mel invited Luis to a birthday party at the former Errol Flynn estate in Hollywood, which she then owned. Luis arrived late while Mel was talking to a party guest, and thus Luis was introduced to Bobbi Miller. A few years later, Mel encountered Luis with Bobbi at a film festival and learned that they had subsequently married and were already the parents of two children.
When Mel was invited to the premiere of Love & Suicide in Los Angeles, she expected to renew her friendship with Luis in his familiar role as a film producer. She was totally unprepared to see him on screen in the central role of Alberto.
"I've got to tell you, this guy has got chops. I've been acting for thirty years and worked with the best. Luis is a natural. I know that Cuban guy he portrayed on the streets of Havana. It was amazing to see Luis move so naturally in that role. I was shocked and stunned. The character was so right on, so typical, and I asked him how he was able to do it. He left Cuba as a five-year-old. How? He told me, 'We are what we are. It's in our blood.' This film really deserves attention for the risks that the filmmakers took and for the realistic views of Cuba that they have brought to the screen. They have given us a message of hope on many levels. It makes me want to return to my own roots in Cuba."
Luis Moro as Alberto
Luis Moro encountered Lisa France on the New York set of The Siege (1998) starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. Those were the days when they would work on a film in any capacity, and they were both first cast as extras and then moved up to stunts (Lisa is a fearless driver) and doubling (Luis for Denzel). Lisa stood out in the large Siege crew, and between takes, she and Luis had an opportunity to discuss their film career ambitions. Lisa was focused on the director's track, and Luis on the producer's so the idea of a partnership was ignited. A few years later, when Luis established a production and management company, the new partners collaborated on their initial film together -- Anne B. Real.
"We found ourselves literally competing with major studios, but we were able to put our first film into theatres, a task that was daunting. Ask my kids," Luis says.
Their second film together would be Love & Suicide, although their third film, The Unseen, was made and released prior to Love & Suicide.
"As a person who has wanted to tell a story in Cuba since forever, I was going to make happen no matter what. I was born in Cuba, and it was my family home until the age of five. The moment Anne B. Real was accepted into the Havana Film Festival, I just knew that my opportunity had come. From the beginning, I knew that our film would be a story about reuniting with a father. I myself was a child of divorce, and I did not want to get that phone call telling me that my estranged father had died."
When Lisa told Luis that Kamar had expressed a desire to visit the house on San Rafael, Luis erupted because Kamar had consistently told him that he was Puerto Rican. Non-Hispanics often do not distinguish one Hispanic nationality from another, as non-Africans do not recognize the distinctly different black African cultures. To the ethnic individuals, however, they do not identify themselves as generic Hispanics or Africans, but as people from a specific country. Whatever the reasons for his Cuban denial, Luis wanted Kamar's visit to his father's former house to be documented on film.
"I intentionally did not pressure him," Luis recalls. "I wanted to go for it live. To go for the gold. The process was very moving for everyone who witnessed it. Luck gets the credit for the moment, but we were prepared for the luck."
About his own acting role as Alberto, the philosophical taxi driver, Luis said, "My proudest moments were when people in Havana consistently thought that I was from Havana. I am, after all, a trained actor. But the first thing that I had to do was to let go of English."
Ironically, people in Cuba speak and understand several languages, including English, Russian, and a bit of Chinese. "Education could possibly be Castro's biggest mistake," Luis says. "You can't educate and try to suppress at the same time."
Baseball is Cuba's national sport, and despite the American government's embargo, Cubans are fanatic fans of major league baseball where many Caribbean and Central American players are stars. In wildly dramatic proof of their baseball knowledge and avid opinions, Luis as Alberto engages a gang of men in a park by asserting that the New York Yankees are the best team in baseball. The resulting scene was pure social reality, but you had to know the culture to ignite it.
Months after their return from Cuba, the raw footage which would become Love & Suicide languished for lack of post-production focus as its production principals worked elsewhere for income.
At that point Luis called on producer Peter Maez to manage a film edit with his own people. The two men had met at a Los Angeles movie premiere year before, and Luis, recognizing Peter as a fellow Cuban, had gotten Peter's goat by some pointed anti-Cuban remarks. When the joke was revealed, both men laughed and became friends. At one point in their relationship, Peter shared his Los Angeles house with Luis, Bobbi, and the children for two years before moving back to Miami. Peter's parents and grandparents were Cuban natives who had immigrated to the United States after the takeover by Fidel Castro. Peter had been raised in Miami.
While Peter worked on other productions, his two editors slaved for fifteen-hour days to make sense of about forty hours of the Cuban-shot footage. After a month, they were in despair of the edited result and suffering severe burnout. Then one of the editors took charge and edited what could be termed a ninety-minute music video without a coherent storyline. Strike two. The third swing brought Luis to Miami where he lived in Peter's house and went through every frame of footage. Then back in Los Angeles, the team finally edited a product that all concerned wanted to put into their filmography.
In the third editing at bat, Luis employed a voiceover for his character Alberto as a poetic binding of the storytelling elements. The voiceovers might have been an awkward imposition if spoken by any other character in the film, but said by the gentle taxi driver giant, the words flow with the rhythm of the movie and add perceptive layers of psychological depth.
When the drunken Tom?ís reveals to him that he has come to Cuba to take his life, Alberto reflects: "I don't know why a person would want to take their life. Perhaps they are trying to escape from themselves.
To get away from their own voices. Hiding from uncomfortable thoughts. Voices waiting to explode in their silence. Either dead or alive, they have to rest, they have to listen and liberate their soul from their minds."
Again about his American passenger, he says, "I've seen the free world through the eyes of many tourists. When I first met Tom?ís, I started to realize the truth. No one is completely free." At the Malecon seawall, Alberto sees more than Tom?ís's self-mutilation as the waves punish him. "I love how the waves never give up. Like a mother's heart, they hug you with everything they have. But some people resist. They ignore those hearts, afraid of knowing the silence of the sea."
In summation of all that Alberto has witnessed in the torturous journey of Tom?ís in Havana, Alberto says, "Very few are the souls that are truly free. Perhaps it's regret that holds us back. And forgiveness is the key that opens the door to freedom. In the moment some choose between love and suicide."
The remarkable thing about Luis's reading of these voiceovers in the film is the naturalness of their tone. The voice blends like soundtrack music, and we are spiritually lifted without effort.
The first test screening of the intermediate cut of Love & Suicide was done at the American Black Film Festival in Miami Beach (July 2005). The film created a stir in Miami and received front-page attention from the Miami Herald and syndicated notice by the Associated Press. A week later, Luis Moro Productions received a certified letter and detailed questionnaire from the Department of the Treasury, signed by the Associate Director of the Investigations & Enforcement Office of Foreign Assets Control. An Associated Press article noted that the Treasury Department could impose fines of up to $65,000 for Americans traveling to Cuba without a special license. Filmmaking is not authorized. The same article quoted a Cuban government report that 108,000 U. S. visitors had visited the previous year, and 200,000 in the year before the sanctions were extended in 2004. How many of these visits were considered legal by U. S. authorities, the Cuban report did not say.
On Constitutional grounds, Luis Moro refused to answer the invasive government questionnaire, reworked a final cut of the film, and then pursued test screenings across the country. The audience feedback to Love & Suicide continues to be unreservedly enthusiastic.
"It was very validating," Luis says. "But my attention was on how people felt about the film. My intention was that audiences come into the theatre one way and leave transformed. If you get the message of the movie, at the very least, you should call one of your parents."
With no money to promote a Miami screening that ultimately ran for two weeks. Luis and Peter hand distributed posters and flyers by day, and nightly they greeted theatre audiences at most showings.
"Be unreasonable," Peter told the audiences. "Call ten people and tell them that they should see this movie. This movie was filmed in Cuba by Cubans who asked no one for permission to make it. Why should we have to get any government's permission to be artists?"
The appeal of Love & Suicide crossed both ethnic and age boundaries, and members of the Miami audiences kept Luis and Peter talking about the film for more than an hour after each showing. Then there was the inevitable invitation to continue the discussion over Cuban coffee in the late night of a Miami barrio.
Do film legends begin this way? Did Spielberg or Scorsese ever pass out flyers for their first movies on a street corner, shake the hands of every audience member after a screening, and spend the late night over cappuccino with strangers talking about their films? If you care about creative courage and endurance, you have to hope so.
Bobbi Miller-Moro, Essentialist
Bobbi Miller-Moro could carry several job titles in her husband's independent film production company: production coordinator, marketing director, actor, publicist, and fan manager. For couples united in filmmaking, multi-tasking is not unusual, but Bobbi also manages the lives of five children aged 15 years to 8 months.
In Love & Suicide, besides serving as the production coordinator, Bobbi also appears in the movie as Alberto's (Luis) pregnant wife in the tenement house Sunday dinner scenes. She was four months pregnant at the time and was still suffering from morning sickness. Daughter Kylie was later born appropriately during post-production of the film.
Bobbi is an athletic beauty who began her job life as a California Sheriff's Deputy -- gun, badge, and all. Raised literally in Hollywood, where her great-aunt Hedda Hopper was a powerful player in the gossip media, Bobbi gravitated to filmdom where she was often cast to play a uniformed cop. She discovered that playing a cop was better than being one, so she became a journeywoman SAG actor for five years with recognition exposure on reality TV shows.
In high school Bobbi had gotten the nickname Lucy, because her antics reminded her family of comedienne Lucille Ball. Up until the time that Bobbi met Luis, however, she had never known a Cuban. One wonders when the Lucy & Ricky Ricardo show concept will strike Bobbi and Luis, and they produce a sitcom pilot called "I Love Bobbi."
Kamar de los Reyes's regular gig is playing Antonio Vega on the ABC daytime drama One Life to Live. He has the kind of good looks that got him named as one of People En Espanol's 25 sexiest bachelors, and landed him a 2005 shot in Playboy as a fashion model.
Kamar can dance and play the trumpet well enough to perform with Dizzy Gillespie, but it is his acting chops that have put him in stage productions of Shakespeare, in movie roles, and in feature guest roles on major TV series like E.R. and Law & Order.
When Love & Suicide was being cast, Kamar's fianc?®e Sherri Saum, who was going to the Havana Film Festival as a cast member of Anne B. Real, suggested Kamar for the lead role of Tom?ís. Sherri's influence and Kamar's availability made this unexpected coup de star possible. Perhaps Kamar was thinking that this guerilla-style film would be a holiday in Cuba with his fianc?®e. He could not have anticipated the repercussions of the Havana experience that were to come. Kamar had previously only experienced a day and a half stopover in Havana some years before in an attempt to escape the bad weather of Jamaica where he was vacationing.
The performer, Kamar, advertises himself as a Puerto Rican, the place of his birth, but in fact, his natural father had been a prominent resident of the most fashionable part of old Havana prior to the 1959 revolution.
The fact that Kamar was half-Cuban was not even revealed to Luis as they discussed the film project. Luis would later challenge Kamar as a Cuban in denial, and Kamar's revelations would prove to serve one of the major themes of the film that Luis had intended from the beginning -- a son's search for a shadowy father in the hope of identity resolution.
There came a day when Kamar came to face the home where his older sister and brother were born, and where his well-to-do percussionist father had owned the entire building, which had now become a decayed tenement house.
"It was difficult to go through those front doors," Kamar remembers. "It was bittersweet. My father had told me about his heydays in Havana. My heart was pounding, and when I met the daughter of my father's best friend, my heart at that point dropped into my stomach. She told me things about my father that I did not know. Things that frankly I did not know my father was capable of. When my father left Cuba, he gave his best friend his house. Without that gift, they would not have had a home. That blew me away. It immediately gave me a new perspective of who my father was as a man, a human being. The hard-edged man that I grew up knowing was actually someone who was extremely sensitive and full of heart and life and soul. For the first time in my life I started to see me in him and him in me. When I walked through those doors, I became my father's son."
When the sound track for Love & Suicide was designed, it included tracks from the Cuban album San Rafael 560 by Kamar's father. The title salutes the actual address of the house he once owned in old Havana where parts of Love & Suicide were filmed.
As the cast and crew changed locations around the city, they were struck by a natural beauty that was not diminished by the urban blights of a poor economy. The charm of Havana's former grandeur was still evident. While Kamar was having a very meaningful personal experience reconnecting with his Cuban ancestry, he still had to perform as Tom?ís, a man courting death. In two scenes specifically, Kamar took his character to extremes.
In one scene Kamar steps out of his hotel room window onto the narrow ledge of the building far above the street. It was his impulse to demonstrate the dangerous emotional edge of his suicidal character. While he swayed in the wind for balance, Lisa and camera crew ran to open another window to film this daring escapade.
In another demonstration of the character's inner turmoil, Kamar subjected himself to huge crashing waves on the Malecon seawall at high tide. The moment presented itself, and Kamar went for it while the crew struggled to keep the camera and lens dry. Kamar got chilled to the bone, and the suit that he had worn for eight shooting days came near to ruin from salt water, seaweed, spilled alcohol, and soaked cigarettes.
Kamar had praise for Daisy McCrackin (Nina) as the perfect gypsy who could see past the suicidal angst of his character. He found director Lisa France very intelligent and helpful in the nuances of his performance while always willing to experiment with what the location and circumstances brought into play. As Kamar worked with Luis, their personal relationship paralleled the arc of their characters as they began to relate as an older brother to a younger one. Luis, as writer-producer, had a governing responsibility to cast and crew; but when he stepped in front of the camera as an actor, he had to meet his fellow actors on a level playing field.
"I give Luis all the credit in the world for making the movie and for his acting," Kamar says. "Luis fell into the character of Alberto effortlessly. It was seamless and beautiful to watch. This movie is a heartfelt journey for everyone who sees it. It relates to women, too, who have to deal with the men in their lives who are not at peace with themselves. Women always have a stake in the outcomes of relationships between fathers and sons."
Daisy McCrackin as Nina
Actress and model Daisy McCrackin was recommended for her role in the film by cinematographer Demian Lichtenstein who sent a short audition video of Daisy to Lisa in New York. The offer to go to Cuba came at a moment when Daisy had been offered a very lucrative modeling assignment for a brand-name perfume. Since Daisy was attempting to make the transition from modeling to acting, she chose the opportunity to be in a "no budget" independent film -- whose concept was still vague -- over the modeling job. She then flew alone to Cuba from California and met the cast and crew on arrival.
Old Havana seemed like a studio back lot to Daisy. The streets appeared full of character actors and extras. There was a naturalness about these background people that kept them from being self-conscious in front of the camera. Daisy was soon caught up in the passion of her director and co-stars. "We worked very long hours, and it became clear that we were in search of a film that changed with our daily circumstances. I did my own hair, makeup, and wardrobe, and my best heels fell apart from shooting in the rain."
Every few days a friendly mutt of a dog greeted the cast and crew in their hotel lobby. The dog came to each person in turn in what they thought was a display of affection. They later learned that their part-time pet was a drug-sniffing dog.
In the neighborhood where the principal photography was done, Luis Moro hired a street impresario named Eddie to be their location manager and guide. Eddie, who has no legs, led the cast and crew in his wheelchair to one restaurant courtyard where the resident band played for an impromptu scene of dancing. First, Daisy, in a wide-brimmed straw hat purchased from a courtyard vendor, gets into the Latin rhythms solo. Then she dances with Eddie who makes his wheelchair appear to have rhythmic hips. Finally, the romantic theme of the movie is served as Kamar joins Daisy for a hot samba.
If a producer had to stage this one scene in a studio, its cost would have exceeded Love & Suicide's entire expenses. On location in a film verit?® opportunity, however, the scene erupts on screen as an unscripted, totally natural event. The fact that it eventually serves the plot and the arc of character development is one of the surprise elements that independent filmmakers discover in taking creative risks.
In a back seat of the taxi scene, Daisy impresses the character Tomas (and the audience) by speaking phrases in Russian and Chinese. The improvisations were based on Daisy's growing up with Chinese friends in San Francisco and having taken a Russian language course. Daisy says that she hopes native speakers will not expose her foreign language simulations.
?® 2006 Monty Joynes Love & Suicide Produced by Urban Family Entertainment. All rights reserved.
Monty Joynes has written 15 novels, 3 plays, 2 produced film scripts, a novella collection, poetry, and 9 non-fiction books.