Canada’s Pictou Twist Pictures and Picture Plant have partnered with Cuban film institute ICAIC to co-produce the definitive account of the Cuban Five — Cuban intelligence agents arrested on spying charges by U.S. authorities in 1998.
Pictou Twist producer Barrie Dunn has penned the screenplay on “The Cuban Five” (“Los Cinco”), which is based on Stephen Kimber’s non-fiction book “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of The Cuban Five.”
“What Lies” relates how in the 1990s, Fidel Castro’s government dispatched five Cuban intelligence agents to Florida to infiltrate exiled terrorist groups targeting civilians in Miami in a bid to destabilize Castro’s regime. Instead, they were arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms on charges of espionage in Miami. Ironically, the leading Cuban exile militant, Luis Posada, remained free.
Kimber came upon their story while visiting Havana in 2009. His four-year investigation led him to Washington, D.C., Miami and Havana; he also interviewed the Five while they were still in prison.
Pictou Twist and Picture Plant acquired the exclusive life story rights of the former agents from ICAIC in March 2015.
“We are delighted that we will bring this heroic story to the cinema in partnership with the Canadians. It has significance not only for Cuba but for the world,” said ICAIC president Ramón Samada.
Clement Virgo, whose directing credits include CBC miniseries “The Book of Negroes” and HBO’s “The Wire,” is attached to helm the film, which is slated to shoot mostly in Cuba by the spring of 2019. “We will likely have a second unit filming in Miami,” said Dunn, who is also looking at the possibility of shooting some scenes in Colombia. Casting will be under way soon among U.S., Latin American and Canadian talent for the English- and Spanish-language feature.
Virgo and producing partner Damon D’Oliveira of Conquering Lion Pictures have also signed on as co-producers.
“Having gotten to know The Five and members of their families,” said Picture Plant’s Terry Greenlaw, “I feel privileged to be part of the team that, in partnership with ICAIC, has been entrusted to tell this inspiring story of idealism and selflessness.”
The announcement comes just as the Cuban Five mark the 20 years since they were arrested on Sept. 12, 1998.
On that day, a heavily armed FBI SWAT team arrested Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, René Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez, who were then tried and convicted in Miami. According to Kimber in an op-ed column for the Washington Post, they were “convicted on low-bar charges of ‘conspiracy to commit’ everything from espionage to murder and sentenced to impossibly long prison terms, including one double life sentence plus 15 years.”
[Rene] Gonzalez, the first out after serving 13 and a half years, said: “Receiving Stephen’s letters in prison back in 2010 was encouraging for us because we knew he would speak our truth, which we believe he has done through his book.
“We consider Stephen’s to be the best book about the Cuban Five. The Canadians have become our great friends and we can’t think of better partners to help share our story, through film, with the world,” he said. Gonzalez now serves as a VP of the Cultural Society of Jose Marti, one of Cuba’s most prominent national heroes.
All five men are serving as consultants to the film.
Cuba credits Kimber’s book as a major factor in accelerating the release of the last three members of the Five. They were set free in December 2014, thanks to the pact between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to restore U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations.
Pictured above: Bottom row left to right: Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernandez, René González
Top row left to right: Stephen Kimber, Barrie Dunn, Terry Greenlaw, Ramón Samada (President of ICAIC)