The Mamboniks, a new documentary filmed in Miami Beach and South Florida, will have its world premiere on Mar. 3 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema as part of the 36th Miami Film Festival.
It is the first documentary to tell the little-known story of Jewish dancers from New York in the 1950s who fell in love with the song and dance of Cuba — before Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 crashed the party. When much of America was discovering Elvis and rock-n-roll, Manhattan went mad for mambo, and surprisingly, many of its fans were Jewish.
“It appealed to the Jewish soul,” recalled Boynton Beach resident Rhea Anides, who grew up in the Bronx.
Like the beatniks of the era, the dancers earned a Yiddish-flavored nickname: “the mamboniks.” They sparked a dance craze that swept the nation — and the world.
The Mamboniks (2019, USA, 90 minutes) features a lovable, animated, somewhat zany collection of retirees in South Florida — dancers, musicians, disc jockeys, club owners and record company moguls. They’re still dancing — in their 70s, 80s and 90s, at the Gold Coast ballroom in Coconut Creek.
The love affair began in the 1920s Prohibition era, when American tourists visiting Cuba got their first taste of Afro-Cuban sounds, discovering rum, romance and the rumba. The music came ashore in Miami Beach, one of the early hotbeds for the exciting new sounds.
“Everywhere you went along Collins Avenue all you heard was Latin, Latin, Latin,” recalled Miami Beach bandleader Rey Mambo (Marvin Baumel).
The film’s soundtrack draws from the Cuban songbook and features Celia Cruz, Mongo Santamaría, and mambo king Pérez Prado.
Blessed with a catchy beat, the mambo pirouetted to prominence in mid-Fifties America. Life magazine featured it on its cover, and it spawned pop hits like Perry Como’s Papa Loves Mambo.
It all ended with the Cuban Revolution and the arrival of the mop-haired Beatles during the British Invasion of the early 1960s.
The Mamboniks is the first film directed by Peabody Award-winning journalist Lex Gillespie, who produced features for National Public Radio and the Smithsonian.
“My film is all about building bridges between cultures,” Gillespie said. “It celebrates diversity, something we can use more of today.”
The film is in competition for the Miami Film Festival’s prestigious Knight Foundation’s Made in MIA Award for the best film set in South Florida, which demonstrates a common ground of pride, emotion, and faith for the South Florida community.
Its world premiere will take place on Sunday, Mar. 3, 3:15 p.m., at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave. Tickets are available at the box office or at miamifilmfestival.com.