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East of Havana

Film Two Stars

I thought that this film would be about Rap and Hip-Hop in Cuba, focussing on one music festival in particular, that's certainly how it began but it turned into much more of a political and humanitarian message, which isn't a bad thing and doesn't take away from the documentary.

The film follows a group of hip-hop artists in East Havana who are struggling to get their music heard and just scrape through each day. They earn nothing from music and seem to make their money selling anything they can in the streets. They're eagerly waiting for the big Rap/Hip-Hop Festival in East Havana which attracts a lot of artists for one big festival.

We follow them during the build up to the festival, seeing how they live, how families have been split and how big the Rap/Hip-Hop scene is there.

Except the more we are shown about their lives, the more attracted we are and the festival, unfortunately, becomes sidelined. When a hurricane hits the island it seems it may not happen at all.

So we learn about the people, their way of life, and what living in Cuba means. The lives they lead seem quite hard, and through this comes their music. The film just doesn't show enough of these performances though. We see the odd clip of one of them rapping, and a very few of them all performing together, this is something I really wished we could have seen and heard more of.

The slow change in direction isn't an annoying one and the film still remains interesting and engaging. It turns into a quite emotive tale at times, and at others you're quite surprised at the amount of pride and happiness felt by these people, a lot of which comes from the music and the family.

Unfortunately I found the subtitles on this film quite hard to follow. They would continually change to a new sentence and I wouldn't have noticed. Usually they catch the corner of your eye and pull your attention down.

One of the things I found interesting about this film was the way that the young people, and some older ones who were asked, felt about Cuba and their relationship with the US. They want Cuba opened up to the US and to attract the people there. They want to earn a living and climb out of the place they are in.

It's interesting, later on in the film, to see the difference between two brothers, one who escaped to the US and the other who remains in Cuba. Both are happy, but both long for each other and their family to be whole again. However it's clear from the little that we see that the brother in the US is much better off, if missing his family an incredible amount.

This closeness the audience gains with the people in the film is what gets you through the change in direction. They are extremely open to the cameras and to talking about their lives in such a way that it feels as though they are sitting next to you chatting as a new acquaintance.

The closing titles of the film looked gorgeous, the setting sun on the promenade of the beach with the titles appearing behind on the sky behind. Despite everything that the film tells you about Cuba and the people's lives, the documentary makes it look wonderful enough to make you think about visiting. It's such a shame though that they can't leave and experience life outside.

A good solid documentary that you soon forgive for shifting focus, if indeed you notice at all.


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