There are film festival premieres and then there are film premiere events. For A Tuba To Cuba, the filmmakers went all out on both.
The documentary had been three years in the making and is a musical journey of New Orleans’ famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band that travels from the storied city of jazz to the shores of Cuba in search of their musical identities. Bandleader Ben Jaffe was on hand for the preview screening, premiere and all party events. Director TG Herrington described his film that he shot on location in New Orleans, Havaña and Santiago de Cuba as “a story of musical connection transcending the barriers of language, politics, color and creed.”
“A Tuba To Cuba is not only a love letter to Cuba and New Orleans, but more importantly, to that “spirit”… That music, that lies deep inside all of us. Passed down to us by our mothers and fathers and the others that came before them.
A gift that shapes our identity.
Opens our eyes.
Gives us a voice.
Makes us feel…” Herrington said.
There were plenty of feelings after the first screening at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival and at the exclusive, by-invite-only coffee cocktails reception in the beautiful patio and gardens of the newly renovated Hotel Saint Cecilia with cherry blossoms in full bloom. Producers Nicelle Herrington and Han Soto – who in his other job is an actor and has starred in such blockbusters as Loganalongside Hugh Jackman, the TV-series Halt and Catch Fire and the Harrison Ford action pic Ender’s Game – made sure, the spirit of the film carried over into the celebration.
Never mind that it was not even noon yet, Mimosas were only one choice next to Old Cuban Cocktails (aged Cana Brava rum, lime, angostura bitters, sparkling wine and mint) and Willa Jean’s Afternoon Delight (Stumptown coffee, Tito’s vodka, Licor 43, vanilla milk and orange peel) and the buffet offered a lot more than croissants and a cheese plate: in true Southern tradition, there were shrimp & grits, Cuban sliders and beignets laid out under a formidable oak tree, all thanks to the amazing organizational skills of consulting advisor Kristin Shannon and production manager Lindsay Stillman. As guests swayed to the sounds of local band Outlaw Ritual, temperatures rose to 90 degrees, but neither heat nor humidity tempered the mood.
And no, Pres Hall Band’s Ben Jaffe and I had not coordinated outfits beforehand. The fact that we both showed up in stripes – mine were by LaLigne NYC – then posed before a striped awning on the striped marble was pure coincidence! And a lot of fun. Had I gotten the memo, I might have worn two different shoes, too. Although I could never compete with Ben’s green and pink Guccis!
In good, old Hollywood tradition – and because the party was so exclusive – guests were handed gift bags at the exit that contained among other things a sleeve of Nespresso’s limited edition flavor Cafecito de Cuba and a pair of Krewe sunglasses, a brand that originated in New Orleans, now has outposts in Dallas and Manhattan’s hip Soho area and is a favorite of musicians, models and actors. If your future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades, they may as well be Krewes.
Ben Jaffe was later joined by band mates Charlie Gabriel, Ronell Johnson, Brandon Lewis, Kyle Roussell, Clint Maedgen and Walter Harris. Jaffe had something else to celebrate aside from the movie: the return of his beloved tuba. A few weeks ago, his precious instrument had been stolen by a gang of local hoodlums. Preservation Hall offered a reward for its return. The day before the premiere the tuba, a little dinged up and with the lettering removed, turned up just in time. Because the filmmakers and the band had planned a special treat at SXSW after a big, completely sold out premiere at Austin’s historic Paramount Theater. An audience of 1000 – many moved to tears by the film – was treated to a Q&A after with the equally teary-eyed director who said:
“As filmmakers, this was an uplifting and joyful journey. We felt the need to leave politics, controversies and differences at the door. Instead, we chose to embrace all that was beautiful and whole about humanity. We feel this film captures the triumph of the human spirit expressed through the universal language of music and challenges us to dig deeper. To find the common ground we all have inside, and there, firmly plant the flag of sister/brotherhood.”
This was followed by a big Nola-style Second Line Parade with the band marching out of the Paramount Theater onto the street. The crowd quickly grew to 1600, and the manpower of the local police had to be doubled as people danced through Downtown Austin with (sponsor) Ace Hotel New Orleans-parasols, because no Second Line would be complete without them. And 6th Street was closed to traffic.
After a Texas-inspired Italian dinner in the private room of Vespaio where the filmmakers toasted with 25 friends and savored everything from Baked Oysters to Pizza Margarita to Osso Bucco, guests and fans met up at Mohawk nightclub where Preservation Hall Jazz Band jammed deep into the night under the Texan sky with the city lights in the background. Truly, the most unusual, creative and incredible celebration of a festival film we have ever experienced.