30 November 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director Gary Lennon discusses Irish documentary Castro's Spies; currently on limited release in IFI
01 Jul 2022 : Nathan Griffin
Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon’s Irish documentary Castro's Spies.
Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon’s award-winning Irish documentary Castro’s Spies will receive a limited release in the Irish Film Institute from July 1st.

We spoke to co-director Gary Lennon ahead of the film’s first physical screening in Ireland, which takes place tonight, Friday, July 1st, in the IFI.

The film will be followed by a Q&A, hosted by Emmy winning director and editor, Emer Reynolds, with the directors Gary Lennon & Ollie Aslin.

Castro’s Spies tells the thrilling story of an elite group of Cuban intelligence agents sent undercover to the US in the 1990s. From their recruitment, training and eventual capture on US soil; this film peers into a secret world of false identities, love affairs and betrayal.

“Ollie was the person that found the story,” co-director Gary Lennon told IFTN. “He saw a bumper sticker, which said ‘free the Miami Five’ and that kind of intrigued him.”

“The Miami five was the name that this group of spies were known at the time and they the subject of an international campaign by left-leaning organizations to secure their release,” Lennon explained. “These organizations felt that they were arrested simply for politics.”

“Normally, in a situation like this, spies who are captured, are sent home to their country of origin,” he added. “So it was a big international campaign spreading many dozens of countries over a decade trying to secure their release.”

Using never before seen footage from the Cuban Film Institute’s archive and first-hand testimony from the people at the heart of this story, Castro’s Spies gives a rare glimpse into the shadowy world of a spy – where the stakes are life and death.

Lennon joined the project after Aslin had spent over two years researching the story. “From that point on, we got the support from screen Ireland. And then later, we closed the finances from other sources in Ireland, both private and public,” Lennon explained.

The film, which was nominated for Best Documentary at the IFTAs and won awards at Docs Ireland and the Melbourne Film Festival, is produced by Gambit Pictures.

“To meet the Cubans themselves, it was a slow process, as you can imagine, it takes a while to secure the political access for this,” Lennon recounted. “Initially, we went through the Irish Ambassador, and then later, just by step by step, we got to meet the spies themselves.”

As luck had it, the first of the Miami Five began to be released as the pair began embarking on the project, which allowed Lennon and Aslin to meet and interview each of the five members during filming. “On the other side of the table, we were able to meet all the people that they actually worked on in Miami,” Lennon explained. “There was a number of organizations that were trying to topple the regime of Cuba, and they were very open in their access to us.”

“Both themselves and the FBI, and the American Legal Services gave us full, full cooperation,” Lennon continued. “And the reason they all did this is that every single one of these groups feels that what they did was completely correct.”

Similarly, the filmmakers were able to obtain corroborating evidence of the events examined in the documentary, which all sides involved agree are the events that took place. “The kind of disagreement is actually who was right and who was wrong. So we kind of leave the audience to come to their own conclusions about that,” Lennon added.

Castro’s Spies was represented for World Sales by Submarine Entertainment NYC. “In May we had a theatrical release in the USA and together with Gravitas Ventures it is now available across many online platforms in North America,” co-director Gary Lennon told IFTN.

The documentary recently signed with TVF, who will handle the rest of the world sales on the project. “The film will be available in different cities in Ireland later in the summer and in the UK in September and then hopefully beyond that afterwards.”

Castro’s Spies is currently on limited release in the IFI.

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