British director Paul Dugdale (Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Adele) created two documentaries for The Rolling Stones this year — one originally kept under wraps, Olé Olé Olé: A Trip Across Latin America, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and screens at more than 300 cinemas nationwide tonight (Dec. 12); and the Cuba concert film, Havana Moon, which came out a month ago in various formats on Eagle Rock Entertainment.
Both produced by JA Digital with support from Island Film Cuba, in many ways the two films should be seen together: Olé Olé Olé providing context for Havana Moon, the doc of the historic free outdoor concert in Havana, Cuba, on March 25, that attracted an estimated 1.2 million fans to the massive sports complex Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana. Co-written by Dugdale and Sam Bridger — and produced by Simon Fisher — Olé Olé Olé covers the band’s preceding América Latina Olé Tour throughout Feb. and March, and goes out to the streets and the heart of the people.
Layered with social and political history, native music, the role of rock and roll — and how the locals learned of and grew devoted to the Rolling Stones — we meet Argentina’s “Rolingas” superfans, see the band jam with local drummers in Uruguay, and hear about arrests back in the day just for listening to songs by Mick and the boys. Woven throughout are fly-on-the-wall and interview segments with management and tour production as they try to lock down plans for the Havana show — which Billboard covered extensively.
Billboard spoke with Dugdale, who has now directed four films for the Stones — including 2013’s Sweet Summer Sun – Hyde Park Live, and a yet-to-be released film shot in 2015 at LA’s Fonda Theatre of the Sticky Fingers live playback. For Olé Olé Olé and Havana Moon, Dugdale and his team toured with the band for the last day of rehearsals in Los Angeles to the day they left Cuba.
I was at the Cuba show. I’ve seen the Stones dozens of times and there was definitely something special in the air because you knew that the majority of people there had never seen a show like this. You shot the Hyde Park show a few years ago. How do you give people a sense that it’s in Cuba and not just any show in any country?
What was really incredible with this is when they opened the doors — and obviously it was the same at every show, particularly every Stones show in Latin America — In Europe and America, they’re a little stricter about people running into the stadium. Out there, we would see that everyone was sprinting in to get to the front of the barrier. Cuba was no exception, but what was so incredible about that is it was the only time on the whole tour that I noticed loads of the Stones crew onstage filming and taking photos of that happening because it was completely different. It was an amazing atmosphere.
The first 10 or 15 minutes after they opened the gates they let people into the site, it was amazing feeling, like utter joy. It’s a really strange thing actually. I’m trying to think how to put it into words because there wasn’t really anything specifically different about it — people just running to the barrier — it’s a feeling of excitement. You could really sense it in the air.
Anyway, it’s a long way round of saying the way to show that and the way to illustrate the joy of people and what it meant to them is just by showing them and filming their reaction, which obviously we did. It’s something that I am a firm fan of anyway, filming the audience and using it as a barometer to capture the atmosphere of a place, and particularly a show, how they’re reacting when the screens start or when tracks start up and just the sheer screams. Yeah, it was very special.
I’ll throw some things out and see if you noticed them too. People might have run to the barrier as soon as the gates opened but after that, people were super chill. I got there at 3 p.m. and could walk up to the front and no one cared.
I did, yeah, but I guess by that point, I’d been in Cuba for the better part of a week before the show and that’s just what the place is like. The people there are really beautiful and really friendly and also we would go out at night and you’d be walking back through these completely deserted, really dark streets but you’d feel really safe, which is really strange. Particularly in South America, you wouldn’t feel that. We’d just come from Mexico City or São Paulo and you certainly wouldn’t do that there, no disrespect to those places.
So I just think it’s inherent in how those people are. It’s actually a really lovely thing and, like I say, the first moment when they opened the gates and people were in that space in front of the stage, that’s when I was there and I was walking — looking at the cameras or something — but, yeah I completely sensed that and it was just a great atmosphere. But it was a long way to go before the show that’s for sure. They had seven hours to go or something.
Were there any logistics you weren’t able to do that you didn’t anticipate? [Cell phone and Internet] communication was pretty bad.
It’s an incredibly challenging place to put on a show of that size. But with a bit of work you can do it and everyone was super helpful and very engaging and generous in helping us make it happen. We had to obviously get an awful lot of equipment over there, as did the band and, yeah, it’s a difficult thing just because that sort of thing doesn’t normally happen. We take it for granted in Europe, the U.K., or wherever that kind of thing is easy, to just move stuff around however you want. In our case, we hired as much filming equipment as we could there but obviously what is needed for a show of that scale isn’t all available in Cuba so it’s just a matter of getting that stuff over there which isn’t easy. So nothing was surprising to us because were fully prepared for it, but it wasn’t an easy ride.
How was it onsite dealing with your crew? There was no cell phone service. Did you have to do it the old fashioned way, walk over to the person or send a runner with a message?
Yes we did. We were handwriting schedules and that kind of thing, which felt quite funny. My production coordinator and I were laughing about it one evening because she felt like she was slipping notes on people’s doors late at night, rather than emailing them and it just felt rather peculiar to her. Again, we were prepared for it and we knew that that was the case, and part of being there and communication is slightly strange, but because everyone is prepared for it, you just went with the flow. So for us, particularly, any plans we had in prepping the tracks and all that stuff needed to be done before we were on Cuban soil just so we had access to the internet and we could navigate whatever we needed to look at and study and research before we were there. But it was fine.
You’ve obviously seen many a Stones concert. When Mick spoke Spanish, people next to me were clapping or laughing so obviously he was pronouncing it well. Did he do that at all the shows?
Yeah he did. He’s really amazing. What really struck me was that level of professionalism is rare, I guess, in performers. I know a lot of people say, ‘Hello’ and whatever the country is, and a couple of lines, maybe. But he really researches what to say, works out what is relevant to that place, what will engage those people and show them a good time. It’s a really impressive thing to watch. It’s just an incredible level of detail for a band that has been around that long, because it’s something that they don’t need to bother doing. So it makes a huge difference, and I think people react to it so warmly because they know that it’s difficult for him. [Laughs.]
It’s strange. We found that often the things that he said in between songs became the next day’s front page news. Rather than concentrating on the music, it would be ‘Oh they said this onstage,’ and that seemed to resonate with people, which is really wonderful when it shows that the band’s hard work really paid off. I guess it just touches people that somebody has made the effort to learn the language.
One of the other interesting things to me, which is commonplace for us, is [Cuban fans] can’t upload photos and videos like we do at a concert, but those phones still went up; they were recording it; they were snapping photos, even if they can’t immediately put it on social media sites or send to their friends.
Yeah, and this is a complete guess, but you used to take photos for memories for yourself rather than post for your friends, so maybe that’s what that was, “Okay I’m here. I want to capture it for myself, and maybe I’m not going to upload it to Facebook or Twitter but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it for me to remember.” I absolutely don’t blame them for doing that, and embracing that, and if I had seen that and had been living in Havana for all that time and not seen anything like that before, I’d certainly be taking photographs too, I guess. But, yeah there’s something really endearing about that. I’m sure people can and do engage in some social media, but maybe it’s more for personal memory which is charming in a way.
Did you notice any songs that got an enormous response that didn’t in other Latin American countries?
Not really. We noticed ‘Satisfaction’ is always an absolute smash hit and I guess the first song [‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’] in Cuba was pretty amazing because that was obviously the moment they started, and the gig was actually happening, so that was pretty rapturous. That was a pretty exciting moment.
Did you film the exit of 1.2 million people?
Yes, we did film after the show. We filmed people leaving. What’s really lovely — and I did this with [the concert at] Hyde Park — is seeing the afterthought of every one at a gig. Once it’s over that exhale of breath that everyone has and the reaction and people coming down off this massive high of emotion. So we did film a little bit of that as people leaving, their reactions really, just from a far, not necessarily in your face, ‘Hey, how was that?’ just observing quietly and seeing the joy really that they had. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
The whole thing was a real joy and what was really impressive to me is the band just continued to pioneer and push boundaries. It’s really incredible thing to see. After all this time that they can still do unprecedented events like this and be at the forefront of stuff is really a pretty incredible feat.