“Lazaro and the Shark” is filmed in Santiago de Cuba home of the famous July “Carnival”. Neighbourhoods and surrounding villages snake through Santiago de Cuba’s streets in congas costumed, dancing, playing music and singing in a riotous explosion of colour and movement. It is an amazing spectacle and the documentary catches a snippet of it. I have been at the big Carnival Parade in Santiago de Cuba on July 6, 1996. It was not planned and was haphazard but I enjoyed it immensely and the more that time passes I realize how special it was and that I had the opportunity to witness it. You can read a brief description of my experience from the following diary posting https://a-little-birdie-told-me.ca/2022/07/05/santiago-de-cuba-july-1996-carnival-and-begging-cuban-children/ .
Lazaro is director of a conga called “Conga Los Hoyos”. A conga is a Cuban musical group. He sees absolutely no future in Cuba and if it was not for his infant triplets he would have left Cuba. His wife has been conscripted for a three-year term serving as a physician in Venezuela in an arrangement where the Cuban government is paid a fixed sum and then later gives a small amount to the doctors. It used to be the corrupt landowners and gangsters exploited the population in pre-revolutionary Cuba but that has been replaced by the repressive government. We see her reunited with Lazaro and her children after an absence of two years.
“The Shark” is a rival conga leader of “Conga San Agustin”. He is pro revolution on camera but what is he in his heart? He might be better called “The Worm” for snuggling up with the police and praising the revolution. His conga float has pictures of Raoul and Fidel Castro cleverly bringing in politics to the annual conga contest held every year in July in Santiago de Cuba. While a worm he is also a clever predator so he deserves “The Shark”. Can you guess who wins the conga competition!
“The Poet” is a poet who chants his regime critical poetry a dangerous activity in heavily repressed Cuba. His mobile phones have been smashed by the police and he and his wife fear his arrest and imprisonment. At the year end conga parade called “The Invasion” he chants his poetry in the crowd and the police wade into the crowd bashing away with their batons and arrest The Poet.
The documentary exposes the poverty, squalid living conditions and political repression in Cuba supposedly basking in glory of the success of the revolution which is broadcasted by loudspeaker through the streets of Santiago de Cuba. It is also a testament to the sacrifices Cuban parents must endure if they choose to remain in Cuba.
Yes the documentary captures the joy of Carnival but also the ugly side of Cuba and the failure of the revolution. It is an exploration of culture, repression, poverty, sacrifice and opportunism of individuals such as The Shark who knows how to play the Cuban political system. Such joy and cultural expression would seem under the fist of the regime strangling the Cuban people of what little enjoyment they have in Cuba a failed Communist state.
The documentary enjoys a world premiere showing at Doc NYC which concludes on November 27. Those in the United Sates can also see virtually. But it is sure to make its way across the globe. Directed by William Sabourin O’Reilly. You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/547968635