Back in the late 60's, when the rest of the world was groovin' to the Beatles and Stones, the locals on the tiny isle of Cuba were still getting used to their new-found persona non grata status in world affairs. As the Russians and Americans used the island for their own little game of cat and mouse, anything that happened outside of Cuba's borders was more or less unknown to them. Additionally, anything that happened inside of those same borders stayed there. And that's why the mercurial Los Zafiros, Cuba's very own version of The Beatles, are a mystery to most Americans, even though they enjoy almost god-like status back home.

Today, guitarist Manuel Galban plays with Buena Vista Social Club, the most popular Cuban group of the new millenium. But in the 60's, he was the pivotal part of a group that would be known as Los Zafiros, the most popular Cuban group in history.

Comprising of Galban's guitar, and the vocal stylings of Leoncio "Kike" Morua, Miguel "Migeulito" Cancio, Ignacio Elejalde, and Eduardo "El Chino" Hernandez, Los Zafiros (or The Sapphires) went from zeroes to heroes almost overnight, bringing a new style of Cuban music to the fore as they mixed American doo-wop with traditional tropical rhythms. They sold a bunch of albums, released a bunch of songs that are still sung by Cuban kids to this day, and generally partied like it was 1969.

But a decade after they began, Los Zafiros were no more. And a few decades after that, three of the five band members were dead. Elajalde had a brain hemmorage at age 37. Kike kicked off from cirrhosis of the liver in the early 80's. El Chino lasted another twelve years before succumbing to alcohol.

And that's where Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time kicks in. Director Lorenzo DeStefano tells the story of the band's rise to fame and eventual demise, with interviews, archival footage and indepth discussions with the two surviving band members. DeStefano brings Miguelito, who now makes his home in Florida, back to Cuba after many years away from his birthplace, where he reunites with Galban. The two then wander the streets of the town they grew up, share a drink, talk over old war stories and recount old memories, and meet up with those from their old lives who are still alive. Cue hankies.

The mark of a good documentarian is when he or she can educate you, make you feel empathy, make you feel anger and make you feel like you're in the middle of the story. Lorenzo DeStefano is just such a documentarian. Combining an impressive selection of archival footage with the kind of first-hand story retelling that puts a human face on distant history, Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time goes far beyond the music, the politics and the hype to get under the skin of the people behind the story. When Miguelito and Galban visit the graves of their departed friends, they show nearly as much anger as sorrow, reliving every great and grating second of their careers in one instant of emotion.
Los Zafiros is nearly flawless. It's not a big budget affair, nor is it the kind of shocking or groundbreaking documentary that will make history and bring in millions of dollars. It's just a damn fine time, that might leave you yearning to explore a little more about an era of music that our leaders closed us off from.

Oh yeah. The film is sub-titled... deal with it. don't let a little reading distract you from a ride worth taking.