Heidi Hollinger Loves Havana!
By A.J Twist*
Heidi Hollinger is having a busy day. She has just spent the morning and afternoon photographing Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s whirlwind tour of Havana and she is changing into a cocktail dress to attend the Canadian Ambassador’s reception at the Cervecería Antiguo Almacén de la Madera y el Tabaco on Old Havana’s waterfront. Unbeknownst to her, the evening will also involve an impromptu invitation to the opening of a new Indian restaurant nearby only to be followed by a mojito mixing lesson and some salsa dancing at the Bodeguita Del Medio. This woman never stops; welcome to the go-go world of Heidi Hollinger!
Hollinger not only finds herself in Havana to cover the Prime Minister’s brief two-day visit but also to research her upcoming book, 300 Reasons To Love Havana (Les Éditions de L’Homme) to be released in the Fall of 2017. While the Prime Minister may be on the next flight out of here, Hollinger intends to stay another three weeks photographing and transcribing the many reasons she finds herself drawn to the city year in and year out.
And it is not just to visit the many friends she has developed since beginning her treks here in 1989 as a McGill University student fascinated with the Spanish language (one of her majors in school), but often for one form of work or another. In 1995 she was filmed as the subject of a CBC documentary about her life and career and in 1998, while a member of the Canadian press corp, ended up in the company of Cuban President Fidel Castro and Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chretien for his three day visit of the capital city (the first visit of a Canadian leader since Pierre Elliot Trudeau). Never one to shy away from a photo opportunity, Hollinger’s photo with Castro is one of her most powerful Cuban memories.
More recently, in 2009, she brought an entire film crew to shoot an episode on Havana for her internationally acclaimed TV series, Ports D’attache.
On November 25, 2016, she also found herself in the middle of the action when Castro passed away. Hollinger switched into overdrive as she scrambled to capture this moment in history as she did in the early 1990’s while in the Soviet Union. There she first honed her craft as a political and celebrity photographer, by capturing images of that country’s leading politicians which eventually led to her well-known books: Heidi chez les Soviets (Les Intouchables, 1999), Les Russes (Les Éditions Stanké, 2000), The Russians Emerge (with Jonathan Sanders) (Abbeville Press, 2002) and Monsieur Poutine Vous Permettez ? (Les Éditions La Semaine 2009).
Following her passion to document historic moments, last November Hollinger hit the streets of Havana to capture the outpouring of grief and reverence towards the Revolution’s leader. In fact, determined to meticulously complete the report, Hollinger and three Italian freelancers rented a car and followed the Castro funeral procession all the way to Santiago where she was one of the first Westerners to visit Castro’s gravesite.
For now, she is back in Canada writing furiously and sorting through thousands upon thousands of photos to meet her upcoming book’s deadline. Hollinger will be returning to Cuba in February to attend the Havana Book Fair where Canada is this year’s honored nation and where she plans to promote her upcoming book. Catch her if you can but good luck! She moves quickly, this one!
*A.J Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer and photographer and a regular contributor to VisitCuba.com