Sophie Says

CATALYST @ Sundance | Major Lazer Meets Cuba: Give Me Future Review

By Sophie Silverstone
Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Deering Regan

Give Me Future follows EDM band Major Lazer—a DJ trio comprised of Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire—during their performance of a free concert in Havana, Cuba in 2015, an event that drew a crowd of 400,000—an unprecedented feat for a relatively young band on the Caribbean island. Interested in more than just the music, Director Austin Peters is curious about this crowd of adoring fans as the film investigates the lives of several Cubans: a resourceful, tuned-in, and optimistic group of young people who turn to music for hope and connectedness. “Sometimes living in Cuba, makes me feel like I’m stuck in time,” one young woman explains while gazing over her isolated, palm-tree paradise. “Electronic music gives me the future.”

The documentary has a catchy music-video-pace. Up-close concert and backstage footage is balanced with shots of old cars lining the streets of Havana. Short forays into young Cubans’ DIY culture blends with moments leading up to the big show (the band is touring their 2015 album “Peace is the Mission”). Major Lazer’s music bounces us through the entire documentary. Queue their 2015 hit “Light it Up” featuring Nyla, “Lean On” featuring MØ, or their 2009 breakout song “Hold the Line” featuring Mr. Lexx and Santigold.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Deering Regan

The film embarks during an interesting turning point in U.S./Cuban diplomacy. The Obama Administration had very recently encouraged greater relations with Cuba. Give Me Future smartly encapsulates the historic time of hope and progress through a youthful lens of cultural and artistic exchange.

The film also doesn’t shy away from exposing the existing tensions and oddities of the newly thawed relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Because of Cubans’ limited internet access, the production team is left to guessing how well-known Major Lazer’s music is in Cuba, and how many people will attend the show. Following the band through airport security, and into a press conference, we also get to witness the government officials who so carefully and anal-retentively track the trio’s visit.

We get to meet young Cubans. Despite their isolation, they listen to current popular music. They longboard. They even run their own tech enterprises. For example, the 27-year-old who runs El Paquete Semanal, a weekly offline sharing network, is so successful in spreading popular music, TV shows, and movies throughout Cuba, he’s being contacted by Netflix for distribution advice. Peters certainly paints a positive picture on the whole of this group of a forward-thinking and intelligent kids soon to inherit their country, and with their ears and eyes eager and open to the world.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Deering Regan

Major Lazer fans will not be disappointed by Give Me Future, obviously. We see band members’ thoughts and perspectives on their journey, as well as a vivid play-by-play of the show. However, the film seems less about the band, and more about this particular exchange. Those unfamiliar with Major Lazer are left with little context for who these people are as artists. Instead, the audience gets to see raw stories of Cuban natives (like EDM artist Ilian, a Bjork-esque singer who opens for Major Lazer). These stories are by far the most profound part of the movie when Peters glimpses the under-exposed world, as young Cuba is beginning to bridge the gap with old Cuba.

The film is available for streaming on iTunes.

This article was originally published on February 13, 2017.