— AN OFFICIAL PATRON-SUPPORTED RELEASE, DECEMBER 23rd, 2017 —
this is an odd one; a documentary(ish) about the trip that i took last christmas (2016) to cuba with jason webley, jherek and mayumi. the trip was a shot in the dark…i barely knew anybody down there, and through various connections through TED (mostly through meeting andrés levin, an artist who helped me out on the ground with just about everything), i flew down and made a lot of shit up as i went along. we played a show with an all-female string ensemble named camerata romeu, we made a bizarre music video with a ton of cuban artists using my patreon funding, and we explored what was happening.
i figured it might be a good idea to bring in a cuban friend of a friend, juan carlos zaldivar, to document….whatever was going to happen. this wasn’t mapped out ahead of time: i literally got an email from this guy, juan, a few days before leaving for cuba (he’s an expat living in the states) saying that he’d heard from a mutual friend that i was going down: could he help? i was like: yeah. if you’re a filmmaker, get your ass down there in three days, i’ll buy you a plane ticket, and film…everything. he did. this documentary is what he pulled together after editing on and off for the past year.
it was a leap of faith: we knew we’d film the shows and rehearsals, and i figured we’d get some behind-the-scenes from the angel gabriel video, which was also a seat-of-the-pants project that got thrown together within less than two weeks, do some interviews. just capture the moment.
the recording to which we made our flash-video in cuba (“the angel gabriel”) never got its own project page, since we did it is a super-quick christmas surprise and i was super-offline in cuba – it was a miracle enough to get it uploaded to the internet from down there.
the song, by the way – which is a traditional basque hymn – is close to my heart. i sang it growing up in the choir as a girl.
it’s the only a cappella song i’ve ever recorded, and i sang all four parts myself, which was a really fun challenge for my vocal range (i covered it all: soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts). but it felt really empowering to find out that i had a three-and-a-half octave range. WHO KNEW.
if you missed the original video, it’s here. it was released christmas eve, 2016.
i don’t know if it really cuts through in the documentary, but my biggest thoughts down there were about progress, connection…community.
how we define it. what we consider progress: technologically, artistically, politically, with our relationships, with our children.
it is definitely getting complicated fast in this vast world of ours; progress is definitely not a straight fucking line, no way no how.
there were a few interviews and moments of our documentary that didn’t make the final cut that are worth relating here in blog form…
artistic expression in cuba has an entirely different language, of course it would be, given the political backdrop.
but this kept astonishing me: being an artist, versus a doctor, in cuba, is just a path decision. there isn’t the consideration of whether you’re going to make $350k a year or $35k a year, because…communism. so you consider this: what are my interests? my talents? how do i want to educate myself? when salary isn’t a primary motivator (everybody is generally set with health care and dough, even if the average quality of life isn’t luxurious)…choices change. the choice to be an artist isn’t a shameful one. it’s a practical one.
this was also fascinating: the way people share media in cuba nowadays is through something called “el packete” or “the package”. it’s literally a harddrive/thumbdrive of songs, movies, magazines and other digital material that gets curated by a group of package-makers and updated and passed around every week. it’s become such a huge business that you can literally have the package delivered to your door like a bag of weed. (and down there, you can’t have a bag of weed delivered, believe me.) the package will sometimes focus on a particular director or genre of movie. local restaurants (no shit) started taking out “ads”: imagine downloading the PDF version of french vogue and seeing a photoshopped ad for the tacqeria around the corner from you in havana. that’s happening. without the internet, this is the way media travels in places like this in 2017.
there are internet spots (called “zone wifi” scattered around havana, and everyone hangs out there to check their email and do whatever they gotta do online. people wander around selling vouchers for minutes. i took this panorama of a typical zone wifi. it’s weird looking. everybody is on a phone.
ash – who was just past one year old when we flew down – learned to walk in our havana airbnb. there’s a tiny clip of iphone footage of jherek taking him for his first walk outside the house. that might require a little tissue.
i would like to thank all the artists – dozens and dozens of them – who helped on the angel gabriel video, at these shows, and on this documentary.
we definitely captured….something.
p.s. here are some personal iphone shots from cuba:
on the set of “the angel gabriel” video….on the left are two sisters from america that jason had met through friends on facebook.
on the right is laura, my best friend anthony’s widow, and her new boyfriend, chris. we invited them to come down and spend christmas with us. apparently nobody spends christmas with amanda palmer without winding up in a video.
in the foreground, the cuban painter alejandro pineiro. he did a live painting of the entire video shoot….
and here’s the finished painting:
jason tries on a cuban wedding dress in the airbnb kitchen. that scene didn’t make the final music video
jesus (andrus perugorria) and ash:
on the set.
costumes and make-up.
justine as joan of arc.
ash and his first encounter with a cuban flip phone:
me and juan felipe sanchez, in make-up land:
i was walking ash up and down a street one night while everybody else was in a restaurant, and he stopped outside these gates. he was lured by the colorful paintings inside. we stood there for 5 minutes, staring and pointing, and then the painter who owned the apartment came out and invited us in for a drink. he was an american ex-pat. ash is creating social moments left and right.
our rehearsal space:
a cuban sculpture who made a heart-plane. those who love the dresden dolls will know why my heart soared.
this was christmas eve, on the oceanfront retaining wall in havana, the malecon.
we sang all the christmas songs we could think of, and the cubans thought we were strange.
- A WORD FROM JUAN CARLOS ZALDIVAR -
Though I am originally from Cuba, traveling to the island with Amanda and her colleagues was an incredibly unique experience and one that I will treasure for a long time. As an artist who has used the Internet to share her creative process fully and to democratize the economics of music-making, Amanda’s presence in Cuba at this historic threshold, when the Internet is about to be in homes throughout the country for the first time, inspires us around the world to reconsider what is it that being “connected” truly means.
I believe that this short documentary also resonates with many of the current issues here in the US as the year 2017 comes to an end such as women’s lib; net neutrality & equal access; but also the importance & benefits of tearing down cultural borders and creating meaningful lateral exchanges.
For those of us whose creative thrust is fueled by internal journeys, transformation and our relationship to our bodies as well as to our environments, Amanda’s intoxicating smile will inspire you to muse about our relationship to the stories around us and to ourselves.
I hope you enjoy watching this film, talking about it and sharing it with your friends as much as we enjoyed making it. Happy Holidays!
- A WORD FROM ANDRÉS LEVIN -
Amanda and I met at TED summit last spring and she mentioned she might be coming for vacation to Havana. Since I’m living there we said let’s get together and maybe collaborate on something. Weeks before her trip she mentioned the crew that was coming, I said, “let’s do a show!” We spoke about strings – I suggested my friends Camerata Romeu and so on. Got a date at FAC and we produced the show. As we were speaking then she wondered about shooting a video as well. We had 3 calls at most to conceptualize and create what then was shot that same week. It has been a wonderful creative journey and personally the kind of juxtaposition of ideas and culture that most inspires me about making things happen in Cuba. Every day was a caravan of interesting ideas and people and I’m so grateful and honored to work with everyone that came down. Amanda has a gracious and unique way to bring everyone together around music, elegance and relevance.
THANK YOU TO MY PATRONS
your funding made this ALL possible
produced by Phonograph Films LLC
in association with Eight Foot Records
camera: Juan Carlos Zaldivar
additional camera: Andres Levin and Tousain Ávila
sound recording: Estéban Bruzón
graphic design: Octopus Studios
color grading: Andres Garzas
(in alphabetical order)
Alejandro Piñeiro – painter
Andros Perrugorría – Jesus
Anna & Ingrid Mattinger
Ash – baby
Celia Ledon – costumes
Chris Beuscher – tourist
Guadalupe Blazquez – archangel
Jorge Nonell – child
Jose A. Soto
Jose Alvarez Calero – man
Juan Carlos Zaldivar
Juan Felipe Sanchez – the queen
Justine Marzack – Jean D’Arc
Laura Sanford – tourist
Livia Batista – casting
Maria Fernanda Gavilan – child
Mercedes Ciria – tattoo woman
Raul Reinoso – dancer
Rogelio Conde – hair & make-up
Roxana Macía – angel Gabriel
Veronica de la Torre
William Ulises Gascon
Yasser Dominguez – dancer
Zeleidy Crespo – dancer
director: Zenaida Romeu
Anabel Estévez Acosta
Liliam Marta Llanes González
Amelia Febles Díaz
María de Lourdes Pomares Lima
Noelia María García Olivera
Yadira Cobo Rodríguez
Camila Martel Pérez
Adria Gómez Báez
Maite Gómez Estévez
Lisbet Sevila Brizuela
Denia León Cedeño
Beatriz Brígida Piloto Rodríguez
María Teresa Lussón Santos
María Carla Llera Soler
Mara Mercedes Navas García
Bass: Caridad Zaldivia Lores
production assistant: Alejandro Boza Bonzon
special thanks to
Mad Oak Studio
Nick & Brittney at Fame House
“Ashes to Ashes” - David Bowie
“Dae” - Jherek Bischoff
“Everybody Knows” - Leonard Cohen
“I Made a Promise to the Moon” - Jason Webley
“Missed Me” - The Dresden Dolls
“Space Oddity” - David Bowie
“The Angel Gabriel” - Traditional Basque Carol
“The Killing Type” - Amanda Palmer
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