In 1996, Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, British producer Nick Gold, and American guitarist Ry Cooder convened in Havana to produce a Cuban-Malian collaboration. When the Malians couldn’t get visas, the team turned their attention to reviving a forgotten generation of legendary son cubano musicians and formed an on-the-fly ensemble: the Buena Vista Social Club. Two decades since that fateful first session, we catch up to these master musicians, as they reflect on the magical unfolding of their lives—from humble origins to the evolution and surprising revival of their careers, all against the backdrop of Cuba’s dramatic history. Brimming with unseen concert, rehearsal, and archival footage, this film is an emotional, shimmering celebration of music’s power to transcend age, ideologies, and class, and to connect us to each other through our souls.
Yuli is the nickname given to Carlos Acosta by his father, Pedro, who considers him the son of Ogun, an African god and a fighter. As a child Yuli avoids discipline and education, learning from the streets of an impoverished and abandoned Havana. His father, however, has other ideas, and knowing that his son has a natural talent for dance, sends him to the National Ballet School of Cuba. Despite his repeated escapes and initial poor behaviour, the boy is inevitably drawn to the world of dance, and begins to shape his legendary career from a young age, becoming the first black dancer to be cast in some of the most prestigious ballet roles, originally written for white dancers, in companies such as the Houston Ballet or the Royal Ballet in London.
Two young, strong-willed Scottish sisters, one a left-wing activist, the other a most-popular-girl-in-school type, take their late father’s ashes to Cuba, the site of many family legends of his services to the Revolution. Arriving in Havana, the two women promptly lose the ashes and go through a series of misadventrues – both romantic and dangerous – to try to retrieve them. A colourful and wryly humourous tale of cross-cultural misunderstandings and lost illusions.
At a rundown bus station in rural Cuba, the line of passengers waiting just keeps getting longer. The problem is that every bus that passes by is already full. Their only hope is to wait for the station’s bus to be fixed. As the disparate group settles in, relationships start forming between the passengers: Emilio, a young engineer, becomes smitten with a beautiful young woman who is en route to meet her Spanish fiancé, a blind man gets support from the others to go to the head of the line. Frustration and disorder reign when the one bus brakes down and no one can leave. Resigned to working together, the group magically transforms the station into a beautiful place where no one wants to leave.
At the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, Cuban boxing champion Horacio’s punishment for failing a drug test is to watch over the brash, combative Daniel, a patient in a sanatorium where HIV patients are compulsorily confined. The two collide as Daniel yearns for freedom while Horacio dreams of returning to the ring.