Back in 2007, we published a post on OFAC’s inquiry into the Michael Moore film Sicko, a film that, it was safe to assume, was not on the current administrations list of 10 best films of the year. Having learned that filmmaker Moore filmed part of the documentary film Sicko in Cuba without a license claiming he had the right to do so under the general license for journalistic activities, OFAC demanded that Moore provide proof that he was “regularly employed as a journalist by a news-reporting organization.” We found this an odd request given that OFAC had not been similarly miffed when Charlize Theron filmed a documentary on hip-hop in Cuba claiming eligibility under the general license for journalism. Of course, Theron’s film was critical of Castro and Moore’s
Well, the new Cuba regulations, which were released today and which implement the changes previously announced by the White House, have a provision to put to rest whether a documentary filmmaker must be employed by CNN or the like (or at least say nasty things about Castro) in order to qualify for a general license to travel to Cuba. Under the amended section 515.564 relating to professional research, OFAC notes:
The making of a documentary film in Cuba would qualify for the general license in this section if it is a vehicle for presentation of the research conducted pursuant to this section.
This effectively takes the issue of Cuba documentaries out of the journalism general license and put them into the professional research general license, thus eliminating any need for the documentary filmmaker to prove regular employment by a news-reporting organization. Of course, under this analysis, the documentary filmmaker would have to establish that the film, and the research it embodies, relates to the filmmaker’s “area of expertise.” That probably means that Justin Bieber can’t go to Cuba to film a documentary on, say, alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, filmmakers like Michael Moore can go to Cuba to film segments related to their documentary projects.
(I’ll have more to say about the new regulations over the weekend.)