Film Festival’s opener explores musical connection between New Orleans and Havana

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Courtesy of New Orleans Film Festival

In “Musica!” viewers get to know young Cuban musicans as they develop their talents over five years.

By Jeanne D’Arcy, Uptown Messenger

The 2023 New Orleans Film Festival will open with a screening of Música! It follows student musicians from Cuba on a musical exchange that includes Preservation Hall in New Orleans. The first screening takes place at the Prytania Theatre Uptown on Thursday (Nov. 2) at 7:30 p.m.

Film goers have another opportunity to see the Música! by Academy Award winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music) at the Prytania Theatre at Canal Place 2, on Monday, Nov. 6, at 12:30 p.m.

Viewers meet three young musicians and watch their lives over five years – at school, with their families, performing around town, and on a musical exchange to Preservation Hall in New Orleans.

“Their trip to New Orleans, their residency at the legendary Preservation Hall, was life changing for the Cuban kids,” said Epstein, explaining why the filmmakers wanted to screen this film in New Orleans. “They jammed with and learned from seasoned jazz musicians in a raise-the-roof cross-cultural artistic exchange. These moments are testaments to the power of art to provide meaning and connection — among individuals and between cultures. And the music they made together was intoxicating.”

In 2011, a U.S.-based group of musicians and artisans created “Horns to Havana,” an organization that sends artisans from the U.S. to Cuba to repair instruments and teach young Cubans the skills to keep them in good condition. In Música!, filmmakers follow a string bass from a workshop in lower Manhattan to Havana and into the hands of 16-year-old Lily.

Ultimately, Música! is an exploration of the power of music and the value of cross-cultural exchange — and the impact they can have on individuals’ lives.

Music is famously central to the Cuban spirit and way of life. What connects these students over the five years of the film is their love for music, and their ambition to make it as professional musicians upon graduating.

Courtesy of New Orleans Film Festival

“Música!” explores the power of music and the value of cross-cultural exchange — and the impact they can have on individuals’ lives.

Jeffrey Friedman said that what makes this film significant is that “Helping people achieve their dreams is a form of activism, and that’s what Horns to Havana did in putting together the trip to New Orleans for the Cuban students, which we get to experience in the film. It’s the small things in life that sometimes really make a difference.”

Epstein and Friedman have been working in movies and TV for over 30 years. The two have been honored with two Academy Awards, five Emmy Awards and three Peabody Awards for their work as directors, writers, producers and editors. They have had career retrospectives at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London; the Taipei International Film Festival in Taiwan; the Cinémathéque Québécoise in Montreal, Canada; and the Pink Apple Film Festival in Zürich, Switzerland.

After the screenings, Opening Night continues with a party for NOFF2023 All Access Pass holders. The festivities take place at Gallier Hall, 545 St. Charles Ave., from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. Guests will second line to the beat of The Stooges Brass Band before a special performance by Flagboy Giz and tunes by DJ FTK.

The film festival screening schedule and film guide are now available online at, In-person screenings take place between Nov.  2-7 at The Prytania Theatre Uptown, the Prytania Canal Place 1 and 2, The Broad Theater 4, The Contemporary Art Center Black Box.

Festivalgoers can purchase an All Access Pass, good for admission and priority entry to in-person screenings and the NOFF Virtual Cinema, parties and receptions, panels, and events; or purchase individual tickets for each screening. Individual tickets for in-person and the Virtual Cinema are already on sale at

The nonprofit New Orleans Film Society, founded in 1989, produces the New Orleans Film Festival annually and invests year-round in building a film culture in the South. Year-round programming includes free and low-cost screenings for members and the broader community in New Orleans; a French Film Festival; and filmmaker professional development programs to nurture diverse voices in filmmaking in the American South.

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