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The project's funding goal was not reached on Fri, December 14 2018 8:04 AM UTC +00:00
Malecón FilmsBy Malecón Films
First created
Malecón FilmsBy Malecón Films
First created
$6,066
pledged of $17,800pledged of $17,800 goal
16
backers
0seconds to go
Funding Unsuccessful
The project's funding goal was not reached on Fri, December 14 2018 8:04 AM UTC +00:00

About

It's not too late to make a tax-deductible contribution!

Please click here.

Your donation is TAX-DEDUCTIBLE through Filmmakers Collaborative, our fiscal sponsor, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization.

Poster Design: Sam Coates
Poster Design: Sam Coates

"The Mamboniks" tells a little-known story: how Jewish people fell in love with the music and dance of Cuba during the exciting 1950s mambo era.

But at its heart, the film is about much more: it's about the power of music and dance to bring people together. 

It's a positive story of building bridges between cultures and communities - a vital message for our divisive times.

Millie Donay and "Cuban Pete" (Pedro Aguilar) dancing in New York from the film "Mambo Madness" (public domain)
Millie Donay and "Cuban Pete" (Pedro Aguilar) dancing in New York from the film "Mambo Madness" (public domain)

In the 1950s, when much of America was dancing to Elvis and early rock-n-roll, some free-spirited dancers in New York City swayed to a different beat. 

They fell for the mambo, a hot dance from Havana.

Surprisingly, many of them were Jewish. Like the beatniks back then, they earned a nickname: the mamboniks.

Mamboniks fill the dance floor in 1955,  at the peak of the mambo craze, from "Mambo Madness"
Mamboniks fill the dance floor in 1955, at the peak of the mambo craze, from "Mambo Madness"
Today, mamboniks retired to South Florida dance at the Gold Coast Ballroom
Today, mamboniks retired to South Florida dance at the Gold Coast Ballroom

While making "The Mamboniks," we went where the story took us, filming for more than five years in Cuba, New York, Miami and the Catskill Mountains.

We fell in love with our main characters, the mamboniks who retired to Florida, where they're still dancing -- in their 70s, 80s and even 90s!

They shared their stories, scrap books, home movies, music and memories. 

The mamboniks reunion at Shelby's Deli in Deerfield Beach, FL: (L-R) "Mambo Judie" Friend, Marvin "Marvano" Jaye, Rhea Anides, and Allan "Lusty" Lustgarten
The mamboniks reunion at Shelby's Deli in Deerfield Beach, FL: (L-R) "Mambo Judie" Friend, Marvin "Marvano" Jaye, Rhea Anides, and Allan "Lusty" Lustgarten

They had great nicknames - and told great stories, with humor, heart and chutzpah. They are characters that documentary makers dream of: colorful, lovable, romantic, and highly expressive. 

We were inspired by their passion and zest for life. Their spirit is infectious.

And they're a bit zany!

Marvin "Marvano" Jaye, on the Malecon in Havana, showed us around Cuba to all of his old haunts
Marvin "Marvano" Jaye, on the Malecon in Havana, showed us around Cuba to all of his old haunts
Marilyn "Buttons" Winters, a self-proclaimed "nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn," danced in the US, Canada and Cuba and was half of the dance team "Marilyn & Millie"
Marilyn "Buttons" Winters, a self-proclaimed "nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn," danced in the US, Canada and Cuba and was half of the dance team "Marilyn & Millie"
Rhea Anides was a secretary for a motion picture company in Manhattan during the day, then spent her evenings dancing at the Palladium
Rhea Anides was a secretary for a motion picture company in Manhattan during the day, then spent her evenings dancing at the Palladium
"Mambo Judie" Friend, a sketch artist in New York's Garment District, got her first taste of the mambo as a teenager in the Catskills
"Mambo Judie" Friend, a sketch artist in New York's Garment District, got her first taste of the mambo as a teenager in the Catskills
Larry Harlow is a bandleader and multi-instrumentalist who pioneered the sound of salsa in the 1960s as one of the stars of New York's Fania Records
Larry Harlow is a bandleader and multi-instrumentalist who pioneered the sound of salsa in the 1960s as one of the stars of New York's Fania Records
Ida Carlini, a night club owner and dancer, performed at the Tropicana in Havana, where she danced with a chicken on her head in a voodoo show
Ida Carlini, a night club owner and dancer, performed at the Tropicana in Havana, where she danced with a chicken on her head in a voodoo show
"Rey Mambo" (Marvin Baumel), is an artist, actor, stand-up comedian, composer, bongo player and bandleader in Miami Beach
"Rey Mambo" (Marvin Baumel), is an artist, actor, stand-up comedian, composer, bongo player and bandleader in Miami Beach
Allan "Lusty" Lustgarten, who was one of the few Jewish "Mad Men" on Madison Avenue in the 1960s,  once tried bullfighting in Spain
Allan "Lusty" Lustgarten, who was one of the few Jewish "Mad Men" on Madison Avenue in the 1960s, once tried bullfighting in Spain

The mambo craze began in the dance halls of New York in the late 1940s. 

Back then, one in four New Yorkers was Jewish. And the city was taking on a Latin flavor, as newcomers arrived from Cuba and Puerto Rico. 

Jewish people picked up on the new sounds. 

Bandleaders Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez and Machito assembled swinging Latin orchestras, playing in hotels, nightclubs and even Jewish temples.

"Machito and His Afro-Cubans" helped ignite the mambo craze in New York,  above photos courtesy William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress
"Machito and His Afro-Cubans" helped ignite the mambo craze in New York, above photos courtesy William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

The Palladium Ballroom near Times Square was at the center of the craze.

The 1950s was a segregated era, but its dance floor had no color lines. It welcomed Hispanics, African-Americans, Italians and Jewish people, united by rhythm and respect.

A table of dancers at the Palladium, where all were welcome
A table of dancers at the Palladium, where all were welcome

Hitting its peak in the mid-Fifties, mambo mania spread around the U.S. and the world.

Movies featured Latin tunes. Hollywood stars frequented the Palladium. "Papa Loves Mambo" and "Mambo Italiano" climbed the pop music charts.

Marilyn Monroe fell under the dance's spell, even having a tune dedicated to her, "The Marilyn Monroe Mambo," seen here in a Universal newsreel (public domain)
Marilyn Monroe fell under the dance's spell, even having a tune dedicated to her, "The Marilyn Monroe Mambo," seen here in a Universal newsreel (public domain)

So close to Cuba, Miami Beach went cha-cha-cha to the Latin beat. 

It's one of the music's early hotbeds, where winter tourists from colder climes first caught the sultry sounds of the tropics.

Marvin Baumel, a skinny Jewish kid from Coney Island, loved the Cuban beat so much he learned the bongos, put on a guarachera shirt worn by Cuban musicians, and changed his name to Rey Mambo. 

Rey Mambo on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach
Rey Mambo on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

We hopped into a 1955 Buick convertible, and Rey showed us around Miami Beach, where he and his late wife "Lynita" (Lynn Stevens) had a band in its Art Deco hotels and nightclubs. 

Lynita didn't speak a word of Spanish, but Rey (who is fluent) taught her how to sing phonetically. 

They recorded an LP together in 1959. Check it out as one of our rewards!

Motorboat mambo: Rey and Lynita's band became so popular they hit the high seas to get from show to show
Motorboat mambo: Rey and Lynita's band became so popular they hit the high seas to get from show to show

Like the main character "Baby" Houseman in "Dirty Dancing," Eleanor Bergstein grew up the daughter of a doctor from Brooklyn. 

Her family vacationed at Grossingers resort in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where Latin rhythms echoed in the hills in the summertime.

From her balcony overlooking Central Park, writer Eleanor Bergstein  points the way to the Catskills Mountains, which inspired her hit movie, "Dirty Dancing"
From her balcony overlooking Central Park, writer Eleanor Bergstein points the way to the Catskills Mountains, which inspired her hit movie, "Dirty Dancing"

As a young girl, Eleanor learned to dance, and she won trophies for her fleet footwork.

Drawing upon her experiences, friendships with dance teachers, and the wild Catskills scene, she spun her mambo steps into a Hollywood hit. 

Postcard from the past: Laurels Hotel on Sackett Lake, Monticello, NY, a popular hangout for mamboniks
Postcard from the past: Laurels Hotel on Sackett Lake, Monticello, NY, a popular hangout for mamboniks

The Catskills resorts flourished because anti-Semitism kept Jewish people out of many hotels across America. There were once hundreds of resorts, big and small, in the mountains one hundred miles north of New York City. 

But today, all are gone.

Dancer Norty Hyman takes us on a tour of the ruins of Laurels Hotel on Sackett Lake
Dancer Norty Hyman takes us on a tour of the ruins of Laurels Hotel on Sackett Lake
Marvin "Marvano" Jaye on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba
Marvin "Marvano" Jaye on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba

We travelled to Havana with Marvin "Marvano" Jaye, to search out his old mambo haunts and to explore the roots of the music and dance.

Marvano at the Salon Rosado de la Tropical, on a Sunday afternoon in Havana
Marvano at the Salon Rosado de la Tropical, on a Sunday afternoon in Havana

Marvano calls Cuba his "second home." It's where he befriended musicians and learned the authentic way to dance, "on two." 

He took us to a magical place, an old beer garden called Les Jardines Tropicales. 

Under the Banyan trees at Jardines Tropicales, a beer garden on the outskirts of Havana, which sponsored weekend dances with popular Cuban bands
Under the Banyan trees at Jardines Tropicales, a beer garden on the outskirts of Havana, which sponsored weekend dances with popular Cuban bands
A weekend dance at Les Jardines Tropicales in the 1930s
A weekend dance at Les Jardines Tropicales in the 1930s

It was an emotional return for Marvano, the first time he'd been back in a half century. The US imposed an embargo on the island after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and tourism was forbidden.

The embargo lasted until 2016, when it was eased by President Obama. 

But under the new administration, the future of US-Cuba relations is uncertain.

Grupo Constelación at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana
Grupo Constelación at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana

In Havana, we heard about a legendary dancer named "La China." 

Tropicana dancer "La China" shares her scrapbook and stories on her porch in Guanabacoa,  Cuba
Tropicana dancer "La China" shares her scrapbook and stories on her porch in Guanabacoa, Cuba

"La China" was a star at the Tropicana. We spent an afternoon on her porch, listening to her stories and looking at her collection of faded images from a bygone era.

She also helped us dig deeper into the past, to the mambo's roots in Africa and Santeria, and to the slave trade that brought the dance and the drum to the island. 

In Cuba, everything came together, a fusion of sound and movement that became the life-long passion of the mamboniks.

"La China" in her youth
"La China" in her youth
Marvano at the Tropicana
Marvano at the Tropicana

Lex Gillespie and John Paulson met in the 1990s when both were producing documentaries at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Director/Editor Lex Gillespie, "Marvano" Jaye,  and Executive Producer/Cinematographer John Paulson, in Old Havana
Director/Editor Lex Gillespie, "Marvano" Jaye, and Executive Producer/Cinematographer John Paulson, in Old Havana

Lex Gillespie is a three-time Peabody Award winner and the shared winner of a silver baton from the duPont-Columbia Awards at the Columbia School of Journalism. He started out as a librarian and tape editor at National Public Radio. 

For the past 25 years, he’s produced documentaries on music, history, culture and the arts. His credits include:

  • "Let the Good Times Roll," a 26-hour series on African-American popular music from the Jump Blues of Louis Jordan to Motown;
  • "Whole Lotta Shakin," a 10-hour series on the birth of rock 'n roll;
  • "Songs in the Wind: The Music of the Andes," "New Sounds from Indian Lands," and "Buck Hill: The Jazz Postman."

John Paulson is a producer, director, editor and cinematographer. His recent production, “Mister Rogers: It's You I Like,” aired on PBS and was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards. Other credits include:

  • “JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala,” the story of the pre-Inauguration Gala for President Kennedy that featured unseen footage;
  • "A Raisin in the Sun Revisited," a look back at playwright Lorraine Hansberry's landmark 1959 play about race relations in America;
  • "Les Paul: Chasing Sound," the Emmy-winning biography of the legendary guitarist and inventor for "American Masters" on PBS.

Over the course of the project, we gave a new life to old media.

We discovered a treasure trove of lost and found films, including home movies, travelogues, "soundies," documentaries, and industrial films that we transferred from 8mm and 16mm to a digital HD format. 

On the deck of a cruise ship headed to Havana, one of the home movies that we preserved
On the deck of a cruise ship headed to Havana, one of the home movies that we preserved

Our film is so much the better for it. It features plenty of cool vintage B-Roll and lots of previously unseen footage. Our discoveries include:

  • A 1930 film 8mm film of Jewish tourists in Havana and Key West, FL. It's perhaps one of the first consumer 8mm films ever: the format was available to the public beginning in the early '30s.
  • A 1948 film, in rare color, of a poolside dance show in Miami Beach at the Shore Club Hotel, "an Art Deco labyrinth of gardens and alcoves."
  •  A dozen "soundies" (early music videos played in barrooms), including one of Irving Fields playing his 1946 hit "Miami Beach Rumba."
  • A 1960s film of the Corso, a nightclub on E. 86th Street in New York, where "Killer Joe" Piro was the emcee for Latin dancing. 

We're offering one of our vintage films as a Reward: "New York Calling," a color travelogue about visiting New York City in the 1940s. 

See the city from the Bowery to the Bronx and beyond!

Coney Island,  a still from "New York Calling," one of our Rewards
Coney Island, a still from "New York Calling," one of our Rewards

Until now, director Lex Gillespie has self-financed the film. 

We need your help to get it to the finish line. Your contributions will enable us to:

  • License music with “festival rights” with record companies and music publishers so we can legally show the film at festivals; 
  • Complete technical embellishments on the film, including color correction and an audio mix; 
  • Pay festival submission fees, so we can bring the film to as large an audience as possible; 
  • Kickstarter fees associated with this campaign.
Finishing Funds Overview
Finishing Funds Overview

                                   Check out our rewards with a vintage vibe!

Select one of the above:

  • Havana Trio
  • Abstract Guitar Player
  • Cuban Septet

Our project has a fiscal sponsor, Filmmakers Collaborative, which means your contribution is tax-deductible. 

STEP 1: After its March 2019 premiere, it is screening at festivals across the US, Europe and Australia, including the Jewish film festival circuit. There are some 150 Jewish festivals globally, including the UK, South Africa, and even Hong Kong.

STEP 2: It's showing at museums, community organizations, colleges, dance halls and music venues.

STEP 3: We're seeking a distribution agreement on cable TV or streaming.

"Killer Joe" Piro, dance teacher at the Palladium,  emcees a dance in 1961
"Killer Joe" Piro, dance teacher at the Palladium, emcees a dance in 1961

Time is running out...

The last of the mambo dancers are in their twilight years. Sadly, several have passed away since the project began, like Marilyn "Buttons" Winters.

We want them to walk the red carpet and see the film in a theater! And we'll toast them at film festivals where they'll be the stars.

We want everyone to see our film before it’s too late.

"Buttons" (Marilyn Winters) 1938-2014
"Buttons" (Marilyn Winters) 1938-2014

Risks and challenges

We are producers with years of experience beginning at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History in Washington, DC. We've produced many award-winning programs for national broadcast.

Your contribution is in good hands.

Thank you!

Lex Gillespie
Director
"The Mamboniks"

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 5 or more About US$ 5

    Retro postcard!

    We’ll email you a reproduction of a cool retro postcard from the 1950s, when Cuba was the top tourist destination in the Caribbean.

    Plus a shout out on our Facebook page for un millón de gracias!

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    Cuban cocktail recipes!

    We'll send you more than 100 Cuban cocktail recipes from the legendary La Florida bar in Havana in PDF form, including the Daiquiri, Mojito and "Old Smugglers Awaken.” (Spirits not included)

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    Pledge US$ 25 or more About US$ 25

    Stream the film!

    We'll email you a link to stream the film online, a one week free access to see it before it’s available on other digital platforms.

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    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Un millón de gracias on Facebook

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    Pledge US$ 50 or more About US$ 50

    Rey Mambo's LP!

    Here's a digital download of Miami Beach bandleader Rey Mambo's 1959 release of Latin and jazz tunes, entitled "Package."

    It features Rey's late wife Lynn Stevens ("Lynnita") on vocals, including "Cuban Cocktail."

    This hip collection of happenin' tunes has never before been released!

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    Cool retro postcard
    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Stream the film
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    Pledge US$ 75 or more About US$ 75

    Download a film about New York City!

    We'll send you a copy of "New York Calling," a travel film from 1942 that's a visit to 1940s New York City, including Coney Island, Yankee Stadium, Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.

    As part of this project, we found more than 20 lost films, restored them and then transferred them to a digital high resolution format (ProRes HQ, 1920X1080).

    This film is in the public domain so you can use it any way you like!

    Narration: English. Run time: 20 minutes

    ALSO INCLUDES

    Cool retro postcard
    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Stream the film
    Rey Mambo's LP
    Un millón de gracias on Facebook

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Film poster!

    Reproduction of "The Mamboniks" limited edition movie poster suitable for framing.

    ALSO INCLUDES

    Cool retro postcard
    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Stream the film
    Rey Mambo's LP
    Both preserved films
    Un millón de gracias on Facebook

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    Pledge US$ 125 or more About US$ 125

    Film credit: Special Thanks!

    Your name will be included in the credits at the end of the film under "Special Thanks."

    ALSO INCLUDES

    Cool retro postcard
    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Stream the film
    Rey Mambo's LP
    Both preserved films
    Un millón de gracias on Facebook

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    Cuban art!

    You get to choose one reproduction of Cuban art from the three shown below: Cuban Drum Septet, Abstract Guitar Player, Havana Trio.

    Each one is 11X14 and will be printed on Fujicolor professional deep matte velvet paper and enhanced with a pebble finish. This paper with a zero-reflective top layer is specially designed to produce stunning fine art prints.

    Each print will be sent to you via U.S. Mail.

    ALSO INCLUDES

    Cool retro postcard
    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Stream the film
    Rey Mambo's LP
    Both preserved films
    Film credit: Special Thanks!
    Un millón de gracias on Facebook

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    Pledge US$ 500 or more About US$ 500

    Film fest tickets!

    You'll receive a pair of tickets to a festival screening of “The Mamboniks” near you, plus an invitation to any screening parties or receptions associated with the film. (Travel and lodging not included)

    ALSO INCLUDES

    Cool retro postcard
    Cuban cocktail recipes
    Stream the film
    Rey Mambo's LP
    Both preserved films
    Film credit: Special Thanks!
    Un millón de gracias on Facebook

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    Associate Producer!

    Join the crew.

    You'll be listed in the final credits as Associate Producer, and you'll have access to view an early cut of the film before its premiere.

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    All of the rewards at every level

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Funding period

- (30 days)