Zeus, the most popular and beloved heavy metal band in Cuba, has had to fight to perform for over 20 years. Now they're superstars in their own country, but unknown to the outside world. In this 11-minute documentary, American filmmaker Nicholas Brennan follows this legendary band to discover what it really means to be a Cuban rock star. Through intimate interviews and gripping live concert footage, a portrait of five musicians trying to live both their lives and their dreams emerges.
Director's Statement Collapse
As a documentary filmmaker, what drives me is the curiosity to peak beneath cultural assumptions, to look underneath society's inherent misconceptions. While spending three months living and working in Cuba during my third year at NYU's film school, I began to see what some of these misunderstandings look like.
Cuba—a proud, culturally rich country—has a fantastically complicated relationship with my home country, the United States. Working with a team of top young Cuban artists and a dozen other NYU filmmakers last spring, we collectively produced 45 short films about Cuba over the course of 90 days. The films captured a visual slice of Cuban life, as seen from American eyes and through the lens of local Cuban artists. Hard Rock Havana is one of those 45 films.
It was an incredible time for me to learn, not just about the process of documentary filmmaking, but also about the world, about living in history, and about transcending larger differences to find common bonds. This search for commonality is what motivated Hard Rock Havana. In Cuba, I was drawn not to the differences between our countries, politically and otherwise, but to the immense similarities we share. With Hard Rock Havana, I found an element that also struck close to home for me: heavy metal. I grew up playing along on the drums to big American metal bands in my basement in small town Maine. In Cuba, I found a scene that I recognized. It wasn't an exact copy, rather it was something better: a uniquely Cuban interpretation on what I grew up with in Maine. In the screaming, moshing youth in downtown Havana, I saw myself.
There's something universal about heavy metal, of being able to completely release both physically and emotionally through performance, that transcends borders and politics and gets to something much more base and very human: our simple urge to express ourselves. Zeus, the band featured in Hard Rock Havana has been performing for over two decades. They've experienced the ups and downs of Cuban society as a band. Now, with most of the band in their 40s, they've reached a rock legend status within their own country. But what happens now is much more uncertain. They do have dreams: they hope to record a new studio album (they've only produced one in their 21-year history), and they hope to finally be able to do a full national tour of Cuba (something they've never done).
I was along only to capture a short glimpse of their life. Their story, however, continues. We're all listening now.