12 March 2003

Florida Film Fest Diary - Entry #3

Geez, it's already Wednesday and I'm just now getting to chronicling the events of Sunday. In part this is due to the fact that a film festival like this one really messes with my admittedly-odd sleep cycle. People don't think of attending films as "work," but in my case it definitely is. While I enjoy the films, it's disorienting to spend much of the day in a dark room, only emerging occasionally out into the light like some kind of cinema groundhog. It produces an odd fatigue, throws off meals and generally messes with my admittedly-odd sleep schedule something awful.

Another factor is that no matter how much you plan your time at a film festival, changes invariably pop up. You run into friends who want to go grab a drink, you find yourself not in the mood for a heavy film you had planned to see, or you get reminded that other obligations are waiting. In the case of Sunday, the day started with some quality family time rather than movie time. That's just how these things go, and the trick (particularly in Florida) is not to get stressed out about it.

So we only saw four films that day -- two shorts, two features.

The King & Dick is a cute little short (about 10 minutes, just the right length) documenting one of the most bizarre meetings in recent memory -- Elvis Presley visits Richard Nixon. Working with public-record photos and archival memos and remarks by those who were there, the film slaps together an entertaining account of a truly strange event. It would have been nice if they had re-interviewed or gotten access to the surviving witnesses like H.R. Haldeman, but the archival material is enough.

This was followed by the 90-minute (too short!) feature Tribute, a film about the trials and tribulations, the drama and the glory of being in a rock-n-roll tribute band. I'll write more about this one over at Film Moi soon, but suffice to say that you start off laughing and end up cheering. This is a "Behind the Music" special in style but a lot like "Spinal Tap" in execution, and is far more dramatic than some of the actual bands whose songs are being covered. A terrific film.

Later in the day, we got a rich helping of the two sides of Cuban life. The brief Dissident takes a look at the actual life of a Cuban dissident living in Havana. It was a sobering visit to a world completely removed from our own, and yet just 90 miles off our shore. Any look at Cuba today is an interesting one, since the land seems so very "frozen in time" for the last 40 years.

We then moved on to the main feature, Los Zafiros (The Sapphires), the biggest pop vocal performers in Cuba from the early 60s to the early 70s. Deftly blending traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms and jazz with doo-wop style and arrangements, they created a sensation that made them international stars outside the US and permanently beloved by the Cuban people. As with the subject of Dissident, the pride and patriotism of Cubans comes across loud and clear; they have a unique land and culture and are intensely protective of it. The film focuses on the reunion of the two surviving band members, one having stayed in Cuba, the other having departed for Miami 20 years ago.

The film is highly sentimental and nostalgic and runs about 15-20 minutes longer than it needs to because of this, but as someone who lived in Miami I can tell you that the film's values are reflective of the mindset of the Cuban people and appropriate for the subject matter. The final number is a stunner, and the film lovingly shows many performances of Los Zafiros both from historical footage and the two survivors singing and reminiscing. Everything in Cuba is pretty much as it was 40 years ago, lending an eerie parallel to the archival footage. If you love Cuban music and culture, you will probably love this movie.

Tomorrow we'll talk about Monday's movies - Respiro, Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You and Richard Thompson: Solitary Life.

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