Sonoma International Film Festival Review

Jorge Maique, Co-president of Habanos S.A

Sonoma International Film Festival Lights Up With “Cigars – the Heart and Soul of Cuba.”
By Bradley Gray

Havana. Just mention of the word sends any cigar smoker waxing poetic. It’s a city of a different time, and a pilgrimage to this tobacco Mecca is something that all cigar enthusiasts wish to make. But it usually is just that – a wish.

While waiting for your lucky star, make a point to see the film “Cigars – the Heart and Soul of Cuba.” This captivating film recently played at the 15th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival to a full house. This Festival, based in the heart of California wine country, is rapidly becoming one of the most important film festivals on the planet.

The film was written and directed by James Orr, who has a fair amount of Hollywood success under his belt (Three Men And A Baby, Mr. Destiny, Father Of The Bride, Sister Act II, etc.). James Suckling, former senior editor of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines, hosts it. Both gentlemen were present at the screening.

It offers an amazingly comprehensive look at cigar production in Cuba. From seeds, to harvest, drying, fermenting, rolling and packaging, every aspect is covered. Suckling visits the top growers and really becomes involved with the people and personalities that, in Suckling’s opinion, make these cigars that much more special.

The thing that really stands out about the Cuban cigar process is just how labor intensive it is. Pride and intense quality control are present every step of the way. There are colorful scenes from the “heart of the factory” –  the rolling room, and mysterious darkness in the drying barns. Most of film is vibrant and bright, as one might expect from Cuba. The tobacco fields glimmer in emerald green, and closeness of family life on the plantation is expertly captured in this film.

James Suckling, host of “Cigars - the Heart and Soul of Cuba.”

Tobacco, like wine grapes, thrives in certain microclimates. Suckling takes us on a journey through Cuba’s premier tobacco growing region, Pinar Del Rio, in search of “Vega Fina,” or the best tobacco. He finds it at Finca Alejandro Robaina, where beautiful cinematography captures the age-old traditions of the workers.
Later, Suckling visits with Jorge Maique, one the smartest men in the cigar business. Maique is the Co-president of Habanos S.A the company in charge of distributing and marketing Cuban cigars worldwide. Maique explains; “Tobacco is a history and a tradition as well. When you work in tobacco, it’s like something special is coming inside (of you). It’s in your blood. We are happy, because we love what we do.” Maique tips his hat to Alejandro Robaina, the recently passed  “Grandfather of Cuban Cigars.”

“They work up to the age of 90 or 95 years old. Even if they were sitting at home, and couldn’t walk, but they walk only to see the tobacco plantation, just to feel the smell, just to touch the tobacco leaf.  What this means? Passion! For us, it’s like a religion.”

The purpose of the film is to pinpoint just what makes a Cuban cigar so good, and Suckling finds that it’s the workers. “The qualities of the producers actually get into the product, and the product is them,” he concludes.

The film is sewn together by a fantastic soundtrack of traditional Cuban music that takes you straight to old Havana.

When you do watch the movie, make sure you have a fine cigar close by. If you have stamina and patience, you might be able to make it to the end of the film before lighting up.