Matt Dillon: “It is disgusting to see how my president tries to extract political gain from public health”

Matt Dillon: “It is disgusting to see how my president tries to extract political gain from public health”

The actor has turned his passion for Cuban music into the documentary 'El gran Fellove', a journey that looks like a resurrection through the life of a lost and now found hero

Matt Dillon:

From now on Mateo, not Matt, Dillon. During the entire duration of the documentary El gran Fellove , the musician who is also the protagonist addresses him like this, with his name translated into Cuban rhythm. “From time to time it's a break that they don't know you,” says the actor from The Law of the Street, Drugstore cowboy and, why not, Something happens with Mary . His second film as a director (in 2002 he shot La ciudad de los fantasmas) places him next to the mythical and forgotten figure of Afro-Cuban music. Suddenly, Francisco Fellove Valdez, scat singer, showman, apostle of rhythm and messiah of simple happiness (all in one) is that man that everyone, educated or less, cannot help but adore. Although I don't know it yet.

The film, as instructive as it is melancholic and funny, reviews the life of the man who at the age of 16 composed Mango mangue , a commonplace in the Latin sound. Emigrated from Cuba to Mexico in the 1950s, Fellove became an almost avant-garde star as admired by his colleagues as loved by the public. And so on until, by chance of fashion, injustice or simple oblivion, it disappeared. And he did it not exactly like Sugar Man, but almost. Mateo, not Matt, came across him by chance, and out of sheer passion, and has dedicated a good part of his entire life to rebuilding his tracks and, most importantly, falling in love with him. In the 90s, when Fellove was 77 years old , the Hollywood actor sponsored what would have to be his return album. The film is structured around the recording of this jewel by necessity in which the trumpeter Alfredo Chocolate Armenteros and a young generation of musicians appear. And on this stage set more or less in the present, The great Fellove returns to the dark, tasty and totemic past to imagine the forgotten life of a hero, now eternal.

Matt Dillon:

“I try to put in order what has been the process that has brought me here, to San Sebastián to present a film, and it is difficult for me,” he says by way of a prologue. And he continues: «Everything has been very organic. In the first chapter would be my passion for Cuban music. Why do I like this type of music and not another, say, traditionally American? I dont know. There is no way to find an explanation to taste. Why do you like ice cream? The truth is that Cuba is a musical miracle. It is impossible not to travel to the island and not fall in love with its sound, its rhythm, its way of understanding the world. Cuban music is a gift from Cuba to the world » . At this point, he stops, retraces his steps and makes an effort to recall without much success the moment when the first Fellove album fell into his hands. «I didn't know anything about him, until through a friend who is a producer and bassist I saw one fine day in the recording room with him. My idea was simply to record the event. Fellove wanted nothing more than to sing again. He had no idea who I was. He thought it was a technician circling him with a camera. And so on until his wife, who was also his dentist, showed me all the photographs and recordings she kept of him from when he was a star in Mexico … “, he explains jerkily and leaves the certainty of the film in the ellipsis which has finally arrived. Dillon avoids giving dates, but from one sentence to another, from one moment to the next, decades passed.


What follows is the story of one man and much more. On the screen you get to see the entire history of American music geopolitics. On the one hand, the all-powerful United States, on the other the uncertain journey that a good part of Cuban talent was forced to make towards Mexico. Fellove left in 1955 and with him so many others. We speak of the times before the revolution, of the times in which the ballads of the also Cuban José Antonio Méndez, the great friend of our hero, could do everything. «There is a story yet to be told and that my film only points to. For many Cubans, who even suffered from racism in their own land, Mexico was a liberation. There they welcomed them and turned them into stars. A documentary like the one by Wim Wenders Buena Vista Social Club tells the story of those who stayed, but then there is the great diaspora “, he says, pausing and jumping to the great episode of recent Cuban and even world history:” Then The revolution was a point and apart that fractured everything: it separated friends, it broke families. Fellove did not return until 1979 at a time of relaxation in relations between the United States and Fidel. But the fracture was already installed in Cuban society.

Indeed, much remains to be told and The Great Fellove is limited to taking the first step. Far from the gravity of the Wenders film, Matt Dillon's proposal, supported by the master hand of his editor Jason Cacioppo, is more like an intrigue film where the villain is the viewer's own ignorance and the hero is simply the best dance That or a period melodrama in which the gallant is the one who knows the love songs. There are reasons for enthusiasm and they all sing Mango mangue.

“I don't know if I am the best suited to talk about how things are today between the United States, my country, and Cuba. But I am clear that the politics of whom I am not going to name is the main responsible for a division and a resentment that does not exist among the people , “he says cautiously. And already immersed in the matter, he lets himself go: “It is disgusting how my president has turned matters such as public health into a political battle for personal gain.”

Mateo says, not Matt, that as a child his favorite subject was History and that he imagines a history of human emotion through music. «Emotion unites us all. There are no differences. Why not build from there a doctrine that does not distinguish between countries or skin color? “, He says. He also likes to remember where his love comes from, not so much for collecting old vinyl as for sounds from other times. At one point in the documentary, he shows his house with a long and tight sample of albums as the setting. «When you take it out of habit to go from flea market to flea market, what you do is look for something to surprise you. You go one day to Brooklyn, another to the Bronx, another to an auction because someone gets divorced. I don't understand how you can enjoy having all the music in the world on your phone, ”he says. This is Mateo.

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