Esteban is a movie with a soundtrack by Cuban piano godfather Chucho Valdés and a heart-melting nine-year-old protagonist. The story of a little boy set on playing the piano against many odds, it's a Cuban Billy Elliot with a love-at-first sight star, Reynaldo Guanche.
Directed by Jonal Cosculluela and co-produced by the Cuban Institute of Music and Spain's RTV Commercial, Esteban has already won a handful of awards at festivals in Europe and Cuba. And on Thursday (March 30), the movie will have its U.S. debut as the opening film at the Havana Film Festival New York, with Cosculluela taking part in a Q&A session after the screening.
"Chucho Valdés agreed to make the original soundtrack for the film just because he believed in the project," Cosculluela said via a director's note on the film's website. He calls Esteban a story about "the determination of achieving your dreams," but also one that shows "the harsh side of the current situation in Cuba."
Several documentaries in the festival lineup delve into specific styles of Cuban music. Amparame!, directed by Patricia Ramos, covers the fertile subject of Cuban music's relationship with religion. Decir Con Feeling, directed by Rebeca Chávez, is a love letter to filin, the mid-century Havana swinging jazz ballad style.
And Valdés, along with Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Michel Camilo, anchors Pavel Giroud and JuanMa Villar Betancort's tribute to composer Ernesto Lecuona, Playing Lecuona. Ron Chapman's chronicle of contemporary Cuban music, The Forbidden Shore, will close the festival on April 7.