After seventeen years in the making, Migdia Chinea is finally telling a story of her native Cuba.
Chinea, who received a graduate degree in screenwriting from the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA, has worked as a writer on multiple television shows, including “Superboy,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Facts of Life” and “Punky Brewster.” She has also directed a few of her own short films, “The Kninth Floor,” “Anonymous (Street Meat)” and her latest, “Old Havana and the Great Pimp of San Isidro.”
“Old Havana and the Great Pimp of San Isidro” is a historical fiction story of 1910 Havana centering around a man named Alberto Yarini, the titular “Great Pimp of San Isidro.” At this time the U.S. had just released its control of Cuba, and Chinea said prostitution was widespread. The film is based on the story of Yarini’s life, his love affair with the First Lady of Cuba and the stories of the women he employed.
Chinea said she had always wanted to make films, but didn’t know how to start.
“No one in my family was involved with anything like filmmaking. They didn’t think it was a legitimate endeavor,” Chinea said. “They did not understand it.”
Chinea said she first became interested in Yarini when she came across an article on him while visiting her father in Miami. She said she read that he had an affair with the First Lady of Cuba and was the first Cuban man to run a successful prostitution ring, since most of the men who previously ran the trade were French.
From originally reading the article in 1995 to the final production of her film in 2013, Chinea said this project has been long in the making. She originally wrote the script in 1997 as an undergraduate for a screenwriting class, even though she was not a film student. The class was taught by Dr. Lew Hunter, who said he was impressed by her script and thought she had a strong talent for writing.
“I thought ‘Old Havana’ was terrific … (Although) it’s kind of frustrating she hasn’t had a full-length picture made yet,” Hunter said. “She has a wonderful sensibility in terms of developing stories.”
Chinea submitted “Old Havana and the Great Pimp of San Isidro” as a sample when applying for a screenwriting job. Although she did not get that job, Wendy Kram, who read her samples, approached Chinea saying she wanted to work with her on “Old Havana and the Great Pimp of San Isidro.” Working with a small budget, Chinea started shooting “The Prince of Old Havana” through her Ciboney Productions.
Chinea said all of the interior scenes were shot in her own house, which she filled with furniture from 1910.
Actor Jack Landrón, who played Galin, an Orisha priest in the film, said he thinks Chinea has a keen eye for translating her vision into film.
“She’s got a great eye, every scene was beautiful, and called upon talent to put the film together in the vision that she saw,” Landrón said.
The film screened at the Polish Film Festival in 2013, among others. Yet, Chinea said she has little interest in showing the film locally, instead hoping to sell it as a sample to be made into a feature film.