SXSW: “Give Me Future” gives young Cubans a voice

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Austin Peters | Daily Texan Staff

On March 6, 2016, electronic music band Major Lazer played a historic concert in Havana, Cuba, before half a million fans. Their performance came at a time in which the United States began seeking to repair its ties to the Caribbean nation. Filmmaker Austin Peters was there to capture this seminal moment in Cuban culture.

In the days leading up to the concert, Peters explores the state of Cuban media consumption. He focuses especially on youth, who he finds are eager to keep up with the latest TV shows and listen to the hottest music.

Since the government heavily censors what the population can see, much of Cuba obtains its information and entertainment from an unsanctioned service called “the Paquete.” Members of this service pass external hard drives containing many forms of media around the island, creating an offline internet that’s updated weekly.

Peters ties this information nicely with Major Lazer’s arrival, portraying their concert as more than just a free live performance, but a bridge between cultures. Major Lazer confirms this much, repeatedly proclaiming that this may be the most important concert of their lives.

But Major Lazer isn’t the element that gives “Give Me Future” heart — it is the people of Cuba. The film takes on a profoundly emotional dimension as we see a largely isolated people come into contact with a world they’ve been yearning to see. This angle of the film is so effective that it may have been better served by having Major Lazer as a background force, rather than a second subject battling for attention.

In certain moments, Peters focuses on some of Cuba’s upcoming young artists and musicians, including two of the openers for Major Lazer during their show. Peters makes it known they have vision, they have prowess and they have determination. He explores how they take older styles of music and reinvent them for the modern age. However, their actual music often gets dominated by the film’s message, meaning Peters rarely focuses on the songs that these artists create but rather what they stand for.

When Major Lazer takes to the stage in front of a wild crowd, they overstay their welcome on the screen. The initial momentum gets lost with concert scenes feeling slightly repetitive, teetering on the verge of becoming boring. You can only watch people jump up and down in slow motion so many times without checking your watch.

Major Lazer fans will enjoy watching their boys perform for a good cause, though, and concert shots make it obvious which songs they play during their set. There are also some interesting moments where distance between Cuban and American culture is apparent, such as when the band chooses to play “Jump Around” by House of Pain and few people in the audience react because they haven’t heard the song before. This does a great job at displaying how parts of pop culture were lost to Cuba before the creation of the Pacquete.

“Give Me Future” is a decent documentary held back by its own subject matter. While the logistics of setting up the Major Lazer concert and the actual performance itself can be interesting, these matters force Peters to neglect far more pressing and involving issues. Major Lazer might be giving a concert, but it is the up-and-coming artists that will be giving Cuba its future. They should be the ones in the spotlight.

 

“Give Me Future”

Running Time: 88 minutes

Rating: NR

Score: 3.5/5 stars