“Una Noche” is documentary filmmaker Lucy Mulloy‘s first feature film and also her graduate thesis.
The film tells the story of three Cuban teens — brother and sister Elio and Lila, along with friend Raul — who embark on a journey from Havana to Miami on a makeshift raft after Raul is wrongfully accused of a crime.
The film was shot entirely in Cuba, and stars Cuban teenagers who had no acting background. It has received accolades — including at the Tribeca Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival — for its authentic depiction of life in the Communist country.
Mulloy’s professor and mentor, Spike Lee, has also given the film his stamp of approval, although he was skeptical at first, Mulloy told Here & Now.
“I think I did everything that film school told me not to do: shooting on the water, shooting with animals, with young people who had never acted before,” Mulloy said. “All of that in addition to making it in a country with an embargo.”
When “Una Noche” premiered at the Havana Film Festival, Mulloy said that what was initially one screen for 200 viewers turned into multiple screens with 2,000 spectators. Riot police were even called. After the film festival, the movie was banned in Cuba.
Mulloy says she was “devastated” when the film was banned, but was humbled by the Cubans’ interest in her film.
“It was really important to me that the film would feel real and organic and authentic to a Cuban audience,” Mulloy said.
She thinks the film will appeal to American audiences as well.
“Everybody comes to a movie with their own different perspective,” Mulloy said. “My objective when I’m making a movie and presenting characters [is] that people can empathize with their story and engage with them and their journey. That’s all I can ask for, really.”
After the movie came out, life imitated art for lead actors Javier Núñez Florián and Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre, who played twins in the film and have since become a couple: The pair decided to leave Cuba and live in the United States.
- Lucy Mulloy, director of “Una Noche.”
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Director Lucy Mulloy's debut feature film "Una Noche" is about escape, escape to a fantastical place where every teenager drives a red sports car and wears 24-carat gold. It's a fantasy America longed for by three Cuban teens who plan to paddle 90 miles from Havana to Miami on a makeshift raft.
Mulloy is a New York-based documentarian. "Uno Noche" was filmed entirely in Cuba. It's a dramatic feature, but Mulloy brings a documentarian's eye for detail in her depiction of Havana's neighborhood, like in this scene, where teenagers enjoy a warm afternoon on the Havana waterfall.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "UNA NOCHE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)
CHAKRABARTI: The film stars Dariel Arrechaga, Anailin de la Rua de la Torre and Javier Nunez Florian, three teens discovered in Havana by director Lucy Mulloy. Lucy Mulloy joins us now. Welcome.
LUCY MULLOY: Thank you so much. I'm very happy to be talking to you.
CHAKRABARTI: So, I understand that your film was actually your thesis film for graduate school when you were at New York University. You had a pretty well-known professor.
MULLOY: I was very lucky to have Spike Lee as my mentor at NYU. As I started working on the film, we went out to Cuba, because it's all shot in Havana. The story just started expanding, and it became a feature film.
CHAKRABARTI: So what did he say about that early script?
MULLOY: To be honest, he said: Are you crazy?
MULLOY: Going to Cuba, making a movie, it was very ambitious. And I think I did everything that film school told me not to do: shooting on the water. We're shooting with, you know, animals, young people who had never made, you know, who'd never acted before - and all of that in addition to making it in a country with an embargo.
MULLOY: So it wasn't the easiest circumstances.
CHAKRABARTI: When someone like Spike Lee says are you crazy, you're going to shoot a film in Cuba, what was it about Cuba that made you say to him, yeah, I am?
MULLOY: I went out to Cuba 10 years ago for the first time, and I had never seen a movie shot in Cuba. And it's such an incredible place, with so many contradictions and such a kind of complex society, and so visually stunning, as well. I was just completely taken by it, and I really wanted to see a story come out of Cuba. So it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
CHAKRABARTI: But what's interesting to me is that you did all the casting in Cuba, and the majority of the cast are - they're untrained actors or, I mean, they weren't even actors to begin with. So tell us about that process and how you found your stars.
MULLOY: So, initially, I thought about casting young actors and people from - maybe from theater or from television in Cuba. But it just made a lot more sense to me to start looking for real people who had had real experiences, and trying to find the real characters in the movie and people who could really live in that skin.
CHAKRABARTI: When you finally chose the actors that you cast in the movie, what was it about them in particular that made you say, yes, you are the right one?
MULLOY: I had a very specific idea of what I was looking for for the characters and who they were. For example, when I met Dariel, who plays Raul in the film, he was surrounded by a bunch of young girls at his school, and they were all listening to him. And he just seemed very charismatic and kind of embodied the character of Raul already, and I knew instantly that he was perfect for the role.
It was kind of very instinctive, the casting process, and it made a lot of sense when they came in. And then they all met and they got on really well, and we worked for around a year together, preparing them for the film, actually shooting and getting accustomed to being in front of the camera, being in control of what continuity was and knowing how to make a movie, basically learning how to act.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, there's a scene in the movie, on the raft, where they're talking about dreams, their dreams that they have about what America will be like, because they're trying to flee to Miami.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "UNA NOCHE")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)
CHAKRABARTI: And it's a really interesting scene, because there's a discussion about having cars and gold chains, and just all these things that we could think of as stereotypes of America. Now, are those lines that you wrote, or are those lines that the actors just sort of came up with on their own?
MULLOY: Everything on the film was really based on a reality that I was witnessing and experiencing and kind of absorbing as I was in Cuba. I spent a long time there developing the script. And these were dreams that I was hearing from people and ideas of the outside world that I was witnessing. And it was written, but it was very much part of a reality that I was seeing.
CHAKRABARTI: So what has the response been to the film in Cuba?
MULLOY: So, we showed the movie at the Havana Film Festival in Cuba. Initially, we had a screening for 200 people. Four hundred people turned up, and they had to put the movie on in two parallel cinemas. Our producers spoke to the people from the festival about expanding the screens, and they agreed. They negotiated and agreed to put the screen on for a thousand people. Over 2,000 people turned up, and riot police were actually called, because so many people were trying to get into the cinema. Since that last screening, we have, in effect, been banned.
CHAKRABARTI: Which is kind of ironic, because you intended to make this film for Cuban audiences, right?
MULLOY: That was the audience that I was thinking of when I was making the film. It was extremely important to me that the film would feel real and organic and authentic to a Cuban audience, and that people wouldn't be second-guessing if, you know, if somebody from a foreign country had made the film. So I was really somewhat devastated when I was told that we wouldn't be able to screen it there.
CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. Well, Lucy, there's always a question when untrained actors are used in a film about what happens to them after the film wraps up. And for two of your leads, apparently after the Tribeca Film Festival, something really dramatic happened to them. They decided to do something fairly serious.
MULLOY: Yeah. They basically decided to stay in the States. But since they just - since they made that decision, the law in Cuba has actually changed. So they can be out of Cuba for two years and still maintain their citizenship. So it would give them enough time to get their green card here in the States and return to Cuba and maintain their status in both countries. I saw Anailin and Javier around three weeks ago in Miami for the press junket there for the movie, and it's amazing, because they're onscreen twins. But in actual life, they're a couple now, and they're expecting twins together. So...
CHAKRABARTI: So, you know, Lucy, a little bit ago, you said that you had made this film with Cubans and Cuban audiences in mind. But how is it that you want non-Cuban audiences - Americans, for example - to receive this film? What do you want them to see when they view it?
MULLOY: Oh, it's a hard question, because everybody comes to a movie with their own different perspective. I would say that it's my objective, when I'm making a movie and presenting characters, that people can empathize with their stories and kind of engage with them and their journey. That's all I can ask for, really.
CHAKRABARTI: Lucy Mulloy's new film is "Una Noche." Lucy, thank you so much for speaking with us.
MULLOY: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to have been able to talk to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CHAKRABARTI: And, Robin, we thought we'd go out on a little music from Anais Abreu, famous Cuban singer that Lucy Mulloy collaborated with when she wrote an original song for "Una Noche." It's nice music, isn't it?
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Yes. And we are awaiting that soundtrack.
CHAKRABARTI: Indeed. It's on its way, we hear. Well, from NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.