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Anatomy of a Disaster: Inside the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ Sequel That Became a Fiasco

Lucy Walker is one of her generation's brightest filmmakers, but could only watch as years of toil went down in flames.

Barbarito Torres (r) Laoud Player and Other Members of the Cuban Band Buena Vista Social Club Perform Their 'Adios Tour' (goodbye Tour) at Knight Concert Hall in Miami Florida Usa 22 October 2015 Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club Has Been Touring the Globe in Different Forms and Combinations Since 1997 They Go on Tour One Final Time with a Series of Concerts and Related Cultural Events That Will Celebrate the Orquestas Storied Journey As Ambassadors For Cuban Music United States MiamiUsa Buena Vista Social Club Miami - Oct 2015

Buena Vista Social Club at Miami’s Knight Concert Hall

Herrera/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

“The Buena Vista Social Club: Adios” represents what can happen when inexperience and self-interest collide with a top-flight filmmaker who learned that deal points can be stronger than the DGA, or art, or even a documentarian’s force of will — especially when you’re not a producer on the film.

The Pitch

In the March 2015, Walker jumped into a pitch auction to direct a “Buena Vista Social Club” sequel. She was eager for a new project; she was mourning the death of a Disney project on creativity she had been developing for two years.

UK’s now-defunct Blink TV and Convergent Media made a deal to produce the film, and find a director and distributor; Montuno Management represented the surviving band members. The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club planned a 12-city final world tour, and had final say on who their director would be.

No filmmaker came close to matching Walker’s passionate pitch, which demonstrated her love for Cuban music and culture. Wrote Walker in her treatment:

“Their final performance in Havana is the perfect poetic encapsulation of the larger historical context. A hometown farewell is a powerful culmination unto itself, but the symmetry and resonance between the band’s retirement and the transition of Cuba will maximally heighten the emotional experience for the performers and audience alike. The poignancy of catching up with the characters we know, allowing them to reflect on the magical unfoldings of their loves, and the punch of finding out who is still with is and who is not, and what has become of all our beloved characters since we last met them, will be incomparably powerful.”

“Everyone loved her initial treatment,” said Convergent partner Zak Kilberg. Walker landed the job.

But when it came down to terms, Walker and her long-time producing partner Julian Cautherley couldn’t get producer credits: There were already too many on board. They settled for executive producers, and finally convinced original filmmaker Wenders to join the movie. (Cautherley eventually won a producer credit.) With Walker hired, sales company Mister Smith, which handles Broad Green’s international sales, sold North American release rights to Broad Green and other territories at Cannes 2015.

“She was a director for hire,” said Dylan Wiley, president of marketing at Broad Green. “She didn’t bring us into the project. She was aware that there were three-party approvals required for the final cut of the movie. The movie was supposed to be the story of the band’s last tour and a reflection of their lives using mostly original footage.”

But as planning and production got underway, the filmmakers found themselves stepping into a quagmire.

Access Denied

Walker was not in charge of the film’s production. That task fell to Blink TV content chief Christine Cowin, whose production credits were limited to associate producer on “Blur: New World Towers,” and Convergent’s Kilberg, an actor-turned-producer who had never completed a documentary. They served as conduits to the band’s manager, Dani Florestano.

And while Walker’s film was supposed to follow the band on its last tour, it kept getting postponed — from fall 2015, to December, to January, and finally to May 2016. In the meantime, opportunities to gather footage were very limited. The aging band members didn’t expect to interact much with the filmmakers, as they hadn’t talked much to Wenders the first time around, and Cautherley and Walker weren’t able to develop their own relationships with the band.

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