The story of the five Cuban spies who spent years in U.S. prisons is headed to the big screen – twice.
Canada’s Pictou Twist Pictures and Picture Plant have joined the Cuban Institute for the Cinema Art and Industry (ICAIC) to film “Los Cinco” (The Five). It will tell “an inspiring story of idealism and selflessness,” Terry Greenlaw, one of the producers, told Variety magazine.
“The five turned over the rights to their story to (ICAIC), and Pictou Twist, Picture Plant and Conquering Lion Pictures acquired them,” a spokesperson for the producers wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
The spokesperson added that the five Cubans will not receive any payment for the rights. Two served their full prison sentences and three were pardoned by President Barack Obama in 2014. They now work for the government or serve in the National Assembly.
Cuba awarded top decorations to the five — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González — while still in U.S. prisons and demanded their release.
Two served their full sentences and the other three, serving much longer prison terms — one a life term for conspiracy to commit murder — were freed as part of an exchange of prisoners and the reestablishment of US-Cuba diplomatic relations.
The Cuban-Canadian co-production, with a budget of more than $7 million, will be based on the book “What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of The Cuban Five” by Canadian journalist Stephen Kimber. The film will be shot mostly in Cuba, but some scenes will be shot in Colombia and Miami. Production will end next year.
Kimber, a steadfast defender of the five spies, has said that he started to work on the book after a visit to Havana ,when a Cuban friend told him that “nothing will be fixed between the United States and Cuba until the issue of the five is resolved.”
Kimber traveled to Miami, Washington and Havana to gather information about the spies. He also interviewed them while in prison and took part in events calling for the spies’ release.
“To receive letters from Stephen while in prison in 2010 was encouraging for us because we knew that he would tell our truth, which we believe he did in his book,” the spy Rene Gonzalez was quoted as saying in one of the producers’ news releases.
“We believe that Stephen’s is the best book about the five. The Canadians have become our big friends, and we cannot think of any better partners to help share our story with the world, through the movie,” the release added.
Reaction in Miami was not so warm, however. Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, president of anti-Castro Democratic Directorate, called the movie “a disgrace.”
“History cannot be rewritten in that way. The real heroes were the four guys they helped to murder,” he said, referring to the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots shot down and killed by Cuban MiGs in 1996 as they flew in international waters over the Florida Straits.
“You have to read the messages between these (five) individuals and their chiefs in Havana to understand that there’s nothing heroic about them. But about terrorism, yes. And a lot. The objective of that group was to carry out violent actions against non-violent opponents of that regime,” Gutiérrez Boronat added. He was one of the Miami exiles monitored by the five and other members of the so-called Wasp Network.
The other movie about the five will be titled “Wasp Network” and feature actors Gael García Bernal and Penélope Cruz. It will be directed by Olivier Assayas and will be based on the 2012 book “Los últimos soldados de la Guerra Fría,” (The Last Soldiers of the Cold War) by Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais.
Morais has said that he tried a tell the story from a point of view independent of Havana, about the five as well as other members of the Wasp Network. Some were arrested and cooperated with U.S. Prosecutors, and others managed to escape back to the island.
Morais has complained that his relationship with the Cuban government was not easy and that he did not manage to interview or meet with all the people he needed for his book.
But in 2013 he unveiled a Spanish translation of his book during an international gathering of leftists in Cuba, surrounded by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and two senior Cuban officials, Armando Hart and Ricardo Alarcon.
Morais said in that event that he hoped “to celebrate the return of the five in Havana soon.”
“The trial of the five lasted several months and involved an irrefutable quantity of evidence. They tried to justify sending the spies because they were supposedly protecting themselves from violent actions by exiles,” said Mario de la Peña, father of one of the pilots shot down and killed in 1996.
“These spies tried to infiltrate U.S. (military) bases and penetrate peaceful exile organizations whose only sin was to oppose the regime of the Castro brothers,” de la Peña said.
“Gerardo Hernández and the others were sentenced not only for spying but for conspiracy to commit murder,” he added. “Now they can write whatever they want, but the evidence that proves they are murderers is there.”