Work / Film

Rosanna Webster and Phoebe Henry’s cinematic portrait of Cuba

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Rosanna Webster and Phoebe Henry: Puedo Hacerte Una Foto: A Portrait of Cuba

Rosanna Webster and Phoebe Henry met while studying Illustration at Brighton, and have since collaborated a handful of times on film projects. “Being close friends makes for a pretty direct and honest working relationship,” the director duo say. “We have a similarly tuned aesthetic, which makes the process of working together very natural.”

Their latest venture Puedo Hacerte Una Foto: A Portrait of Cuba, which as the title suggests, is a cinematic story of the island. “We went to Cuba with the intention of documenting our experience, we wanted to go away and come back with a photography and film project,” Rosanna and Phoebe explain. “Our intention was to seek out Cuba beyond the over saturated shots you might usually see of cars, cigars and Tropicana, and find a more authentic story.” With music with Danglo “Eagle Eye” and design by Anyways’ Charlie Sheppard, the film is a stunningly executed vision of a swiftly changing culture.

Tell us about the initial concept behind Puedo Hacerte Una Foto: A Portrait of Cuba.

We made a treatment before we went and had an idea to centralise the film around contrasting the two of disciplines boxing and ballet, both of which produce world class exports. We had been in contact via email with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, but on the day we were denied access. The school in Havana is incredibly prestigious and steeped in secrecy, so we’d anticipated this might happen. Other than this we wanted the trip to lead the footage we captured, we tried to shoot as much as we could; with the idea that we would boil this down in the edit to something we felt was true to our experience. Wading through five weeks of footage was a long but enjoyable task.

When was the film shot, and over what time period?

We were in Cuba for five weeks around Christmas. Everything in Cuba is "mañana,” tomorrow, so five weeks gave us enough time to cover much of the island at Cuban pace. We started east and worked our way up to Havana and back in a loop.

When you were shooting, how much of an idea did you have of how the narrative the final film would hold?

The main objectives were to capture a mood and stay authentic to our experience – we wanted there to be an event that the film pivoted around, so that became the boxing but other than a narrative of day to night (which we loosely kept to), we felt that we wanted it to be more emotive and immersive than narrative.

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How did your collaboration shape the film?

The whole process was very much together. We shot and edited everything side by side. Having the two of us allowed us to capture scenes from various angles. We were unsure initially if we’d contend each other selecting down in the edit, but we found ourselves pulling out the same sections and it came together very harmoniously.

Can you tell us about some of the places you went and characters you found on your Cuban adventures?

Our favourite place was undoubtedly Baracoa on the eastern tip of Cuba, a real idyll, incredible natural beauty and the warmest characters, the town looks like a luridly painted cowboy scene.

The way you travel in Cuba is that you stay with families in their homes, or casas, when you want to move on to the next place, they call their friend and arrange this all for you. The casa mamas are very proud hosts and super welcoming, staying with families really made the trip – it’s an insight you don’t usually get.

The people were incredible, flirtatious, lively and open. Straight rum is incorporated into almost every situation. It felt like the whole place was a party. Everyone talks to you, all the time.

Dancing is like walking there, it’s as if the whole island is a professional dance company, we tried to keep up but were mostly flung around. Movement as a form of expression totally underpins the whole place. You feel very alive. One time when a bus was full we ended up sitting in the front, the driver continually swigged beer over a four hour journey, swerving to hit chickens for fun and regularly tried to pass us the wheel to drive, baring in mind there were 30 people in back. We wanted the video to capture this intoxicating chaos.

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Rosanna Webster and Phoebe Henry: Puedo Hacerte Una Foto: A Portrait of Cuba

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Rosanna Webster and Phoebe Henry: Puedo Hacerte Una Foto: A Portrait of Cuba

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Rosanna Webster and Phoebe Henry: Puedo Hacerte Una Foto: A Portrait of Cuba