|SCREENING AT THE 2003 VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM
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
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
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.