Credit: Marco Bava

On Friday, March 4, the Santa Barbara Film Festival hosted the world premiere of the documentary ‘Havana Libre,’ which follows a group of underground surfers in Cuba. For decades, people risked incrimination because aquatic activities were prohibited for fear that participants would flee to America. To this day, such sports are still “viewed with suspicion by the Cuban authorities,” according to the film’s synopsis.

The idea for the film came to the film’s director, Corey McLean, in 2014, when he met Yaya, a Cuban surfer and community leader, while on a trip to the island. Yaya’s goal is to ensure that coming generations of Cubans can surf freely. During Corey’s time with Yaya, he also met her friend Frank, a surfboard shaper and one of the best surfers on the island. McLean saw the determination of these surfers to never stop surfing despite all the challenges they faced from the Cuban authorities. 

From left, Tyler Dunham, Corey McLean, and Seth Brown | Credit: Courtesy

After his trip, McLean returned to the United States with an idea in mind. During a conversation with his friends Tyler Dunham, Nicholas Weissman, and Seth Brown, they all decided to go back and document these surfers’ lives. 

The documentary follows Yaya and Frank as they dodge authorities, look for waves, build surfboards from scratch, and attempt to legitimize surfing after the Tokyo Olympics announces that it has become an official Olympic sport.

Havana Libre is a must-see story of passionate surfers following their dreams despite all the risks coming along with it. The movie will be available on March 22, 2022, soon after the filmmakers finish their festival tour around the United States. 

See and follow our daily SBIFF coverage at Don’t forget to catch our cover package on the festival here.

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