First came President Obama. Then Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. And now Vin Diesel and the cast and crew of the smash movie franchise Fast and Furious have turned Havana upside down.
It seems that everyone is talking about the production team filming Fast 8 this week in Cuba; about the 75 vintage and beautifully restored (by Cubans) American cars that were cast in the movie; about the flashy black helicopter carrying a huge camera that is buzzing the city; about the massive traffic jams created by the closing of the Malecón, the stunning seaside boulevard that separates Havana from the ocean and has served as the street set for several scenes being shot this week.
By sheer coincidence, the production team has been filming literally right below my hotel room window. Just moments ago as I watched, the 75 immaculate classic cars that had been parked along the Malecón began to pull away, one by one, to shoot a major scene in another part of the city.
Yesterday, hundreds of Cubans gathered along the security barricades to catch a glimpse of Vin Diesel and his production team set up a major stunt: running a flaming car up a ramp and over the sea wall into the ocean. We were able to see one of six identical grey jalopies that are being driven in the film by Diesel's character, Dominic Toretto, set on fire and driven up a ramp at full speed along the sea wall. With the helicopter hovering over the ocean for aerial filming, the burning muscle mobile shot straight up in the sky and fell back down onto the pavement; it appears that the actual plunge into the ocean will be done with computer-generated special effects.
Fast and Furious is making history as the first major Hollywood movie to be shot in Cuba in the wake of President Obama's decision to relax the economic embargo and normalize relations. "We are at a place that nobody ever thought would be possible" to film, Diesel told reporters as he arrived on the set yesterday driving an immaculate red-and-white 1950s era Mercury Turnpike Cruiser convertible with co-star Michelle Rodriguez riding shotgun. "We are in Havana, Cuba. And you can see how beautiful it is, with all these beautiful people. They didn't think it could be done. And we're here, we're doing it."
Peter Kornbluh is an analyst at the National Security Archive and writes frequently about Cuba for Cigar Aficionado magazine.