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This is a story about a violin, a family and an island.
In 1945, Jose “Pepito” Figueroa was offered the opportunity to buy a Stradivarius violin, but he didn’t have enough money. His friend was the editor of a local newspaper, El Mundo, who published an article saying that one of Puerto Rico’s most talented musicians needed help purchasing a violin. Within two weeks, the Puerto Rican community made private contributions totaling more than $10,000, and the violin was his.
Pepito had been a child prodigy, and was one of a renowned family of classical musicians from an island not known for classical music. He and his four brothers comprised the Figueroa Quintet. They traveled the world, winning awards and playing in prestigious concert halls as soloists, as a group, and in other combinations. In Puerto Rico, there was hardly an orchestra or ensemble that didn’t count on Pepito to play first violin. He was also an esteemed teacher for over forty years. Many of Pepito’s students went on to have prestigious musical careers of their own, including four Figueroas of the next generation who often perform together as the Figueroa Quartet.
Pepito taught until his dying day, giving a final lesson from his hospital deathbed. Before he died in 1998, Pepito handed down the Stradivarius to his son, Pepe, and two nephews – the three violinists of the younger generation. They have shared it, taking turns playing it in important concerts.
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico. The repercussions of that powerful storm and its aftermath are still felt throughout the island. The devastation moved Pepe to action. He called the whole family together and proposed selling the violin, now worth over $4 million. With his share of the proceeds, Pepe intends to repay the gift once given to his father by supporting music education in Puerto Rico. For Pepe, rebuilding the island is not only infrastructure and electricity, but also the inspiration and joy that music can bring.
We follow the violin as the key to a full-circle story – from the people of Puerto Rico back to the people of Puerto Rico.
We follow the extraordinary family of musicians with its surprising generations of talent, and pay particular attention to the father and son relationship between Pepito and his son, Pepe.
We recount two stories of fantastic generosity. And though the Figueroa family is well-known in the world of classical music, we introduce four generations of stellar Puerto Rican classical musicians to a broad audience.
Ultimately, we offer tribute to an island still living with the aftershocks of a powerful hurricane in a celebration of generosity, talent, love and music.
Gabriela Romanow (Executive Producer, Producer) The daughter of a professional violinist, Gabriela has been raising money for and managing non-profit organizations for over 30 years. She lived and worked in Puerto Rico in the early 1980s, and then was development and communications director for ACCION International for a dozen years. From there, she created and led the Brookline Library Foundation, raising $4 million for a restoration and renovation of the historic library. She partnered in the creation and management of Double Exposure, a photography exhibit about climate change that toured museums throughout United States for four years. She was development director at Living on Earth, a public radio program. She has raised funds for a rare disease, Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO). And she has served on the boards of many organizations. She is excited to embark on her first documentary with Doug Block.
Doug Block (Director) Doug Block is a New York-based documentary filmmaker whose critically acclaimed films have won countless awards, screened in dozens of leading film festivals, and been seen in theaters and broadcast on television throughout the world. His most recent film, 112 Weddings, was the opening night film of the 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and was broadcast on HBO, BBC, ZDF-ARTE among others. The Kids Grow Up (Special Jury Prize, Silverdocs) was released theatrically by Shadow Distribution and broadcast on HBO on Fathers Day, 2011. His previous film, 51 Birch Street, was named one of the Ten Best Films of 2006 by the NY Times, and top five documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review. Block also directed The Heck With Hollywood! (1991), the Emmy nominated Home Page (1999) and the short The Children Next Door (2012). In addition to his own films, Block’s credits as producer include: Silverlake Life, Jupiter’s Wife, A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory, The Edge of Dreaming and Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Block is the founder and co-host of The D-Word, the leading online discussion forum for documentary professionals worldwide.
Sabrina Aviles (Line Producer) Sabrina Avilés has worked as an independent film and video producer for over 25 years, many of which have taken her throughout Latin America, Canada and Europe. Her list of credits include American Experience’s “American Comandante,” “An Unexpected History: the Story of Hennessy and African Americans” and “The Raising of America,” a PBS documentary series about early childhood development produced by California Newsreel. In 2012, she worked on the Peabody award-winning PBS series, “Latino Americans.” That same year, Ms. Avilés received development funds from the prestigious Independent Television Services (ITVS) to begin work on a documentary about the sterilization of Puerto Rican women. As an independent producer, Ms. Avilés has also co-produced independent documentaries, among them: Mi Puerto Rico (1995), a 90-minute documentary on the history of Puerto Rico. A member of NALIP (National Association of Independent Producers), she also co-directed the Boston Latino International Film Festival from 2004 – 2007. In January 2016, Ms. Avilés became the new Executive Director of BLIFF. Born in Washington Heights, Ms. Avilés’ family originates from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. She earned a B.S. in Broadcasting/Film from Boston University.