VIBE Catches up With Oscar-Nominated Directors & Illustrator Behind ‘Chico and Rita’

Movies & TV

The frustrating part about the Academy Awards (or any awards show) is that you can’t please everyone. No matter who or what film ends up winning, there’s always a group of people who think someone else should have gotten the award. However, the good part about that is that despite winners or losers, it’s inevitable that people walk away with several new movies to add to their “to watch” list.

That movie for us was Chico and Rita, from Spanish directors Fernando Trueba and Tono Errando in conjunction with celebrity illustrator Javier Mariscal. Chico and Rita, which is nominated for Best Animated Feature, is about a young Cuban piano player with big dreams who falls in love with a beautiful Cuban singer (in English subtitles). Music and romantic desire unites them, but their journey brings heartache and torment as their torrid love affair goes through an on-again-off-again cycle across New York, Havana, Europe and Los Angeles, over the course of several decades starting in the 1940s.

Chico and Rita features an original soundtrack by Bebo Valdez, a legendary Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer, as well as music by jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie and more. It’s a romantic rollercoaster ride that features sexy characters, classic music and the revolutionary spirits of Havana and New York in the 1940s. Check out the trailer below:

VIBE caught up with directors Fernando Trueba and Tono Errando and to talk about how how Cuban and American jazz musicians inspired and influenced each other and why Chico and Rita is a must see movie for hopeless romantics.

What inspired you to do an animated love story like this?

Fernando Trueba: I wanted to work with Javier [Mariscal]. I was a big fan of his art his illustrations, comics, the science, everything. And we became friends because he did the art and the poster for some of my other movies and the art for some records I produced. We wanted to do something bigger, and we started talking about doing an animation one day, and I saw his drawings and video of Havana that he had made from visiting, and I thought why do we do a movie about Havana. So we just started talking about that later writing the script, looking for the story and the characters. We love the music of Havana and jazz [in America] from the 40s. That was such a fantastic time for music and musicians from Havana who came to LA and New York to play so we felt it was important to put that in the story.

The soundtrack consists of music from Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and more musical innovators from the 40s. Talk about that era of music and why it was important to incorporate those artists.

Fernando Trueba: All these people, what they did was a big revolution. They were geniuses. Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk−they did music that would last forever. And at the same time in Cuba, they loved American music and musicians in the 40s, and American musicians were fascinated with Cuban music. So, if you look at the American people who were playing in Tropicana in the 40s and if you look at the list, everyone was playing there. American musicians and Cuban musicians were going back and forth and there was a lot of communication between them and they were listening to each other and by the late 60s, they were wondering what’s going on in Brazil. Ella Fitzgerald was singing in Rio and going to clubs there because the singers were inventing Bossa Nova, so musicians invented globalization before internet existed. They were mixing with each other listening and understanding with each other, so we decided to tell the story of Chico and Rita at the end of the 40s because in 47, 48 is when this moment in music was best.

The main characters are of African decent, which isn’t something we see much in America when it comes to love stories. Was it intentional to make the characters of African decent?

Fernando Trueba: We never felt different. The thought never crossed our minds, maybe because most of the Cuban musicians we know are from African origin, like Bebo, and in Madrid there’s a population of Cubans. But Chico and Rita had to be Black because a majority of the populations of the Cubans we were talking about were Black. These were the people we were talking about. And in Cuba, the population is so mixed so it doesn’t matter because they have 100 colors in Cuba. We are all related to each other.

In America there tends to be a divide between African Americans and Black Latinos. What are your thoughts on that and do you think someone watching Chico and Rita will see the connection?

Fernando Trueba:I think they will. The musicians don’t think about what language you speak or what color you are. Musicians were more advanced than the rest of society, especially in the 50s and the 60s. That was a tense moment in America, which is why a lot of American musicians moved to Europe.

What do you hope that viewers take away from the movie?

Tono Errando: I was in Colombia and there was a screening and people came out of the theater with happiness in their faces, so that for me is the best prize. If they have a good time watching this movie and they feel it’s romantic and they feel for the characters and they listen to great music, then that is incredible. I always see this movie as a sensual experience−the colors, music, everything. Today, there are too many movies that when you walk out of the theater and you reach the street you don’t remember what the movie was about. So, for me a good movie is one that you still have some sense of it in your memory and that some sense of the movie belongs to you and mixes with your life. And when you see the DVD, you buy it because you want someone that you love to watch it with you. That’s a good movie, and that’s what I want to do with a movie like this, to give pleasure to people.