SAG-AFTRA sent a high-powered seven-person delegation to the Havana Film Festival in early December — the union’s first official visit to the island since the 1959 Cuban Revolution — and has kept most of the details under wraps since.
The only official announcement came in February from a single paragraph in Los Angeles Local president Jane Austin’s eight-paragraph message to the Los Angeles members, who comprise about half of the union’s 160,000 members. The message disclosed the organizers of the festival had invited SAG-AFTRA to participate and then discussed the trip in general terms.
“As one of the members that traveled on this trip, I am pleased to report that it was very productive,” Austin said. “We planted the union flag and laid a very solid foundation for our performers who will be working there in the future. It was also fascinating to learn that our fellow performers in Cuba are subject to the same professional challenges and concerns that we face in this country.”
Plans are for members to receive a more extensive report on the trip in the upcoming official SAG-AFTRA magazine published in late April or early May in what will be the first issue of the magazine since the trip. A spokesperson for the union refused to disclose any estimate of the cost of the trip, which was budgeted as part of the union’s strategic outreach and organizing activities.
According to the spokesperson, the delegation included national executive director David White, general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief communications and marketing officer Pamela Greenwalt, two staff members who work primarily in organizing the Spanish-language entertainment area and executive VP Gabrielle Carteris, who recently replaced the late Ken Howard as president.
The spokesperson said the union was invited by the director of the festival to participate on panels and at events such as the opening night premiere and private industry meetings. Carteris and Austin led the delegation and participated in all events and hosted several meetings with Cuban actors.
White and Crabtree-Ireland both appeared on industry panels and along with elected leaders met with actors; Cuban film and television authorities; Latin American filmmakers, TV producers and distributors; U.S. ambassador to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis; American producers and filmmakers; and MPAA chair Chris Dodd.
“As you know, there are a number of films, reality shows and scripted television programs starring our members that have been or are now shooting in Cuba,” the spokesperson said. “It’s an important market and was an enormously successful trip both now and in the future.”
The spokesperson also said the union’s national board was updated on this activity at its Jan. 23 meeting. However, the union made no mention of the Cuba trip in its press release about the meeting.
The trip was also not mentioned in SAG-AFTRA’s April 10 release about the most recent national board meeting. That release disclosed that Austin and chief financial officer Arianna Ozzanto presented the projected budget for the year ending April 30, 2017, indicating it is expected to yield a larger surplus compared to the current fiscal year budget due to increased revenue.
SAG-AFTRA’s most recent disclosure of its finances came last August in its LM-2 report to the U.S. Department of Labor, which showed $187.8 million in receipts and $168.7 million in expenditures for the fiscal year ended April 30, 2015.
The governments of Cuba and the U.S. normalized relations last July for the first time since 1959. President Barack Obama visited Cuba for two days in late March as the first American president to set foot in that country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
The local Cuban press provided coverage of the event, such as the UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), which reported that White declared that the union wants local actors receive the same benefits as American artists.
He also reportedly said that there are no such organizations in Latin America, adding, “There is a long way to go and confront the big production companies extend their tentacles to the area.”
And that’s a wrap! Ah, you think?
The Ol’ SAG Watchdog
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