Jonathan Hock’s documentary, The Lost Son of Havana, premiered to great acclaim at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. In honor of this year’s Festival, and the new baseball season, the film has been made available exclusively on Amazon. Hock recounts one of the important lessons he learned while making his film about pitching legend Luis Tiant.
I’m a nervous director.
So being in Cuba, with only seven days to shoot a feature-length documentary, with the knowledge hanging over us that the Cuban authorities could shut us down at any moment (they know we’re on the island but think we’re there to play a baseball game, not to make a movie), I’m feeling particularly nervous. We don’t have a moment to lose. On our first morning, we have a 9 am call time. At 9:15, Luis Tiant, the Boston Red Sox pitching legend whose return from exile to Cuba is the subject of our film, appears in the hotel lobby. He has just woken up on the island of his birth for the first time in 46 years, but I’m not thinking about how that feels. All I’m thinking is that we’ll be shooting in available light in unknown locations and what if we can’t find his boyhood home or run out of light or the secret police shut us down and the van’s waiting so let’s go.
“Have a cup of coffee,” Luis says to me.
“Luis, we don’t really have time…“
“Sit down,” he says. I take a deep breath and a seat at table with Louie, and he brings me a cortado. “It’s good coffee,” Luis says. He talks about his mother’s coffee and tells us how she would bring coffee on picnics with the family and how, as a 15-year-old at one of these picnics, Luis was asked to join a baseball game with his father and his father’s friends, all former Cuban professionals, in a rite of passage he considers the beginning of his career. Kris Meyer
, our producer, and Bobby Farrelly
, our executive producer, have pulled up a chair by now, enthralled. All I can think is that the picnic site is one more location we have to hit.
The story and the coffee are finished. “OK, let’s go,” I say. “Have a cigar,” Luis says, offering me a fresh Cuban from his shirt pocket. “Let’s talk.” We walk out to the beach behind the hotel and sit by the water. Luis asks me about my wife and children, my previous movies. It’s clear I can’t get up until we’re done smoking the cigars. Having never really smoked one before, I can’t believe it takes over 45 minutes.
Finally, almost three hours behind schedule, we head out. Of course we do get lost, but it makes for a great scene. Of course a neighborhood “watch dog” for the police tries to shut us down, but it makes for another great scene. Of course we run out of light, but it gives us a beautiful shot of Luis’ aunt walking him down a Havana alley way at dusk. On his first day home after 46 years, Luis is completely present, in the moment. The shoot has gone better than I ever could have planned.
The next morning the scene repeats itself, and again I am forced to nervously submit to Luis’ agenda rather than my own. But I relax a little, taste the coffee (it is good) and almost enjoy the cigar. Again, the shoot brings unforeseen gems. Louie is so alive here, and everything we could want to happen just seems to find him.
By the fourth morning, when Luis comes down, I’m already sitting at the table waiting for him, with the coffee and a couple of cigars I had picked up myself. I invite him out back for a smoke, and ask him about his wife and children. I’m beginning to understand Luis, and one of the great lessons of his exile. You can’t force life to happen the way you want. You can only be ready for anything, and open to whatever joys and sorrows you encounter. And when you have a moment to enjoy something special, take an extra minute and savor it.
In the cutting room, having captured some very special moments in Luis’ life, we tried hard to let them linger just a little bit, and we hope that the viewer can savor them as much as we did during our time in Cuba with Luis.
Purchase or rent Lost Son of Havana on Amazon VOD.