Review: ‘Give Me Future’

Hot Docs 2017

5 mins read

Give Me Future
(USA/Cuba, 85 min.)
Dir. Austin Peters
Programme: Artscapes (Canadian Premiere)


Before The Stones rolled into Cuba for their 2016 Havana Moon show, Major Lazer drew huge crowds of young Cubans to a groundbreaking performance. The core of this electronic dancehall world music unit are the deejaying trio of Florida’s Diplo, Jamaica’s Walshy Fire, and Trinidadian Jillionaire. Heavily influenced by Caribbean riddims and popular on the islands, Major Lazer’s motto is “make the world smaller by making the party bigger.” They promote the mingling of musical styles, nationalities, and races. Lean On, their best-known song, just hit two billion views on YouTube.

At a Hot Docs screening, Peters introduced Give Me Future as a “different kind of concert film.” It sure is. For one thing, you get to see very little of Major Lazer’s performance. Most of the doc focuses on the conception of the show, the logistics of setting it up, and most importantly, the response of Cubans, who crave a future that offers them much more than the present. The title Give Me Future is an optimistic play on ‘Gimme Shelter.’ In Cuba, Major Lazer has been out to inspire hope that the island’s people will get what they want and need, particularly when it comes to freely expressed music and open access to information.

The film opens on vibrant young Cubans chilling on the Malecón, Havana’s gorgeous sea front esplanade. The kids are energised by the mere idea of the upcoming show. Havana is stuck in time, says one of them. The 1950’s cars, so beloved by romanticising tourists, and the old-school Cuban music are a nostalgia trip.

In 1999, Wim Wenders venerated the elderly musicians of the Buena Vista social club. He and his collaborator Ry Cooder represented their generation, seeing authenticity in the old school, as opposed to popular dance music. No doubt, plenty of young Cubans respect the music of their elders; it’s just not their priority. Close by in Jamaica, youth still listen to old school reggae. But even young proponents of the traditional “reggae revival,” musicians like Chronixx and Protoje, code shift between reggae and dancehall, singing and deejaying.

For young Cubans, who want more web access than 200 monitored WI-FI hotspots, electronic music is the music of tomorrow, not today, or yesterday. They crave wide-open information and exposure to the latest music. We learn that a system called the “Paquete Semanal” relays pirated content that Cubans can share via hard drives and MP-3 players.

When the film is not busy reporting on this state of affairs, we’re getting Major Lazer’s account of how the show happened and its significance. They covered the cost of the show, relying entirely on Cuban resources and material whereas the Stones imported equipment and personnel from everywhere. We get treated to copious explanations on how the show came together and the venue set up as we hear Barack Obama talk about changed relations with Cuba. Diplo and the others offer well-intentioned advice (make songs big locally before you go wider), and push their ideals.

I’m not the only viewer to say the doc is too on-the-nose. There’s an overload of press conferences, setting up the show and what it means, too many feel good homilies from Diplo and the boys. You start to feel like screaming, where’s the music?

The doc gets really hot when the show is up, and a dangerously huge crowd of 400,000 converges on the stage, turns around corners, climbs onto the balconies of apartment buildings

The crowd bursts with energy, the police are aware that one spark could set off an explosion. For a moment the powerful beat of rebel music rules. You get the feeling, as crowds push toward the stage that the revolution could be now.

Give Me Future is a well-intentioned film that spends too much time commenting on what it should be showing: the coming together inspired by Major Laser’s music.

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