Sons Of Cuba

Opens 18th March 2010 at the ICA Cinema

SONS OF CUBA follows the stories of three young hopefuls through 8 dramatic months of training and education as they prepare for the biggest event of their lives so far: Cuba’s National Boxing Championship for Under-12s. But during the season, crisis strikes: Fidel Castro is taken ill and all of Cuba’s Olympic boxing champions defect to the USA. As the championship draws closer, the Cuba that the boys have been taught to believe in is at an historic crossroads.

Sons of Cuba

· "Affecting & entertaining. It has all the makings of an arthouse hit" Hollywood Reporter
· "A gem of a picture" Empire
· "Strikingly intimate" Time Out
· "A truly top notch documentary" Eye for Film

Director Andrew Lang about 'Sons Of Cuba'

The roots of this film go back to 2005 when I attended the EICTV, a film school outside Havana set up by Fidel Castro, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Argentine documentary maker Fernando Birri. There I hoped to meet people who could help me make a film about Cuban boxing. The idea was sparked by a newspaper article I’d read in which Cuban double Olympic champion Mario Kindelan explained Cubans dominance of world amateur boxing: “Cubans are fighters in all walks of life. Ours is a small country, but we live to fight.” There was a picture of Kindelan working out on a punch bag made of old tires, under a large picture of Castro in boxing gloves. I was hooked. How about a film that looked at the fight of contemporary Cuban society through the fight of one of its boxers?
Sons Of Cuba Initially, I thought about filming a teenager who was about to break into the National team. But when I found myself inside the secret world of the Havana Boxing Academy, watching 10 year olds run round the training ground shouting, “Victory is your duty, defeat has no justification” I quickly changed my plans. The boys were a fascinating contrast: Communist fighting machines one minute, tearful kids the next. When I learned that the highlight of each year was the boys participation in the National Boxing Championship for Under-12’s I saw a natural arc on which to structure the film: This would be a feature documentary which followed a small number of boys, their families and their coaches into this event, whilst providing a socio-political subtext of Cuba’s current situation along the way.
The proposition was clear. Getting permission to shoot this story was another matter. I wanted to be allowed to film observationally over long periods of time in both the academy and the boy’s school. Unfortunately in nearly 50 years of the Cuban Revolution, no one had ever been allowed to shoot in an educational establishment except under the most strict control. Together with my producer, Dania Illisastigui, I decided to work with a completely Cuban crew to encourage the authorities feel more comfortable about the project.
Almost as soon as I returned to England in February 2006, Dania began slowly working her way through the multiple state organisations that would need to approve the project. It was a huge challenge, and we didn’t know if she had been successful until just before the shoot was about to start.
When I arrived back in Cuba to begin shooting, I could never have devised the subplot that fate was about to give the film. On 31st July 2006 Fidel Castro fell ill and ceded power. Cuba was thrust into uncertainty and nobody knew what was happening. “Is he dead?” “Is he coming back?” “Will the Americans invade?” Behind the shuttered windows of the Havana night, the rumour mill had gone into overdrive. These dramatic events are seen through the characters in our film, and form a secondary thread in the narrative. It has enabled us to make a film that goes beyond their personal story, into a firsthand account of a nation at a turning point in its history.
Sons Of CubaOver the next two years, we built up a very close relationship with the coaches, boys and their parents. It was the key to the raw emotion we were able to capture in so many scenes. It was trust in us, and their enthusiasm that “our story be told” which led to the interviews being so extraordinarily honest and heartfelt. Regularly our eyes filled with tears as our characters cried on camera. As the shoot progressed, we became like a big family, travelling around to all the tournaments with them, and sharing their dreams.
But despite these enjoyable aspects, the shoot was very demanding. We were running out of money constantly, and I was often borrowing back salaries paid to the Cubans in order to keep going. The day-to-day problems of working in Cuba also made things tough: Many Cubans are still without telephones in their homes, and water and electricity cuts are common. Added to this, the authorities constant questions as to the integrity of our film became a running worry. But no matter how tough a time we thought we were having, we were always humbled by the harsh sacrifices faced by our young friends.
To train for five hours a day, be constantly hungry, and live in poor conditions is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a ten year old child. We were very moved by their struggle, and keenly felt their desperation to make the team for the Nationals.
Sons Of CubaAt first I was worried that not enough dramatic scenes would happen in the Academy to be able to make an observational film. In fact, quite the opposite happened. As we reached the last month before that Nationals the hunger, pressure and exhaustion rose to such heights that each of the boy’s stories exploded into drama. In those final days it seemed that every moment we spent away from the Academy, we would miss something. When the team for the Nationals was finally announced each of the boys broke down one by one, followed by the coaches. We had tears in our eyes as we shot it. It was a deeply moving moment.
Following the drama of the championship the team was invited to march at the annual May Day celebrations, past the general’s stand, where Castro was expected to salute them. But for the first time in 48 years the Commandante missed the event, and it now seems that he will never be seen in public again. As I left Havana with my tapes beside me, I realised that over the last two years we had witnessed a historic shift in this inimitable islands narrative.
In the edit we have tried to create a film that looks at the world through the eyes of the boys. Our first priority has been to tell a unique and gripping story, but without either highlighting or hiding any of the difficulties and contradictions of modern day Cuba. Throughout the edit, cuts have been sent back from the UK to Cuba to ensure that the vision presented on screen was one we shared with the crew.

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Sons Of Cuba