In 1961, diplomatic relations were severed between the United States and Cuba amid the latter country’s involvement with Russia during the Cold War. While relations were restored in 2015, the 50+ year period of tension meant that much of Cuba’s incredible culture was never shared with North America like it was with the rest of the world. That depressing truth is no more apparent than in the lack of American awareness for legendary Cuban singer, Omara Portuomdo. With Omara, director Hugo Perez has crafted a intimate documentary that is guaranteed to rectify this injustice of ignorance.
Omara explores the life and impact of the titular Cuban singer. Perez shifts between recounting the basics of Omara’s past for those unacquainted with her and tackling her renown in the present, as she travels from the block of her upbringing to Japan on yet another one of her “last tours”. The structure established in Omara is reminiscent of Cohen & West’s RBG as the film shows that even today, “Cuba’s Billie Holiday” has never lost her vitality and tenacity. Specifically, vibrancy is made quite clear in a plethora of playful moments, from how Omara challenges the disclosing of her age in a pre-written statement for the documentary to vocally jesting with cheeky audience members. It’s small moments like these that make Perez’s film a far more intimate portrait of a superstar than many other films in the musical documentary subgenre.
Even the elements that are par for the course for most documentaries (talking head interviews, historical recountments, etc.) are elevated due to the clear sense of passion from both the interview subjects and the entire production team. Experiencing several of the interviewees tear up when describing Omara’s influence on their careers is heart-warming and authentically demonstrates the singer’s prominence in the music industry. Also, when it comes to delving into Omara’s past, Perez purposely leaves much unsaid, which only adds to the celebrity’s mystique.
Films have the power to expose audiences to worlds and cultures outside their own without making it feel like traditional learning. Omara is the shining example of this belief, as Perez’s documentary should lead to legions of new fans for one of the greatest musical talents of all time. As a collaborator with Omara mentions in the film, “Art can get ripe, but true art doesn’t age.” If there’s any justice in the world, Omara (both the singer and the documentary) will age like the finest bottle of Bordeaux.
The Silver Lining
Omara should also be celebrated for its terrific visual elements. Gary Griffin & Matt Porwoll’s cinematography is impeccably crisp, making it feel as though the audience is sitting in the front row of one of Omara’s concerts. Additionally, the archival footage utilized in the film to visualize the early portion of Omara’s career is surprisingly well executed, considering how rough the original recordings are.
As an official selection by the 2022 Miami Film Festival, Omara is available to stream nationwide from March 4-13. Click here to purchase your virtual tickets!