Sydney-based filmmaker Sam Zubrycki has just released Miguelito, his first feature documentary.
Miguelito tells the mysterious story of Puerto Rican salsa singer Miguelito, a child prodigy who rose to fame and almost immediately vanished. Described as the Caribbean Searching for Sugarman, Miguelito has received rave reviews, and on the eve of its Australian premiere, we had a quick chat with Sam about the film’s origins and the whereabouts of its mythical hero.
Who is Miguelito:
Miguelito was a young Puerto Rican singer that came from the Barrio Manuel A. Perez in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was one of eleven siblings, the main provider for his family, and every day he would go to the Luis Muñoz airport to sing with his brothers. One day the legendary New York record producer Harvey Averne heard the eleven-year-old Miguelito’s voice and decided to record an album with him, along with some of the finest salsa musicians of the time. Within the year, Miguelito had recorded an album, travelled to New York and performed at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 people. He then disappeared.
How did you find the story?
I discovered Miguelito’s story when I was travelling in Colombia several years ago. I was digging for records in the city of Cali when I came across his LP. The cover instantly struck me, it was incredibly unique and so different from any other salsa record I had seen. I had never seen or heard a child singing salsa before and it really stuck out.
What were some of the myths around Miguelito?
The common myth that many people believed was that a year after the MSG concert, Miguelito had been tragically run over by a car. To many, this was the reason why there was only one album; however, there were other beliefs. I was told by some that he was back in Puerto Rico and working constructions and several people believed that he was in Los Angeles under a different name producing reggaeton.
Did you manage to track Miguelito down, or do we have to watch the film?
You will have to watch the film. Friday the 18th 19.00 at the Chauvel Cinema as a part of the Antenna Film Festival.
How long did the film take to make?
On and off, it took around five years.
Tell us a little about making the film, where you traveled, what you learned, etc.
There were some incredibly difficult times, almost to the point of not being completed. However, looking back, I really loved making this film. I am very passionate about the culture that surrounded Miguelito, about salsa, and I really care about all the characters and communities in this project. Making it gave me the chance to bring their story to life, to learn about who they are and also celebrate the love of salsa and this album which is almost fifty years old. Miguelito was surrounded by so many legends on his album and so meeting these people was as well a real honour.
How has the reception been?
Wonderful. It fittingly had its world premiere at the Cartagena Film Festival in Colombia, which was also the first of any Australian production. It was sold out at the Raindance Film Festival in London several weeks ago, where Gilles Peterson, one of my DJ idols, was in attendance, and it just won best documentary at the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico.
What’s next for Sam Zubrycki?
I’m developing a feature documentary about a group of audiophiles from Cali and the cities connection to music along with a short drama about a penalty shootout.
Catch Miguelito on Friday, October 18th (7PM) at the Chauvel Cinema: 249 Oxford St, Paddington NSW