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Sons of Cuba (2009): A film by Andrew Lang

Sons of Cuba (2009): A film by Andrew Lang

Sons of Cuba is an extraordinary tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people and a stinging visual critique of the decrepitude of parts of Havana. Director Andrew Lang follows the story of three 11-year-old boxers training to be champions in Havana?s state boxing academy. Cuba leads the world in amateur boxing; its giants of the ring have been garlanded with 63 Olympic medals, 32 of them gold.

The movie opens with Fidel Castro chanting political slogans??Patria o Muerte??and booming that ?on the frontline of sport, the Revolution will advance?. Lang accompanies these young rookies as they follow a strict and rigorous training regime in Castro?s Cuba: the film captures the boys rising at 4am to begin exercising in the dark, toes peeping through destroyed trainers, showering in cold water and continuing school lessons in the afternoon. At night, trainer Yosvani puts them to bed on bunks with dirty mattresses and we see him tenderly pulling the blanket up over one boy just before lights out.

The film traces the ups and downs before team selection for Cuba?s Under 12?s National Boxing Championship, weaving in the impact of news of the defections of Olympic-winning national team members and the announcement that Fidel Castro has been taken ill and has handed power to his brother Ra?l.

Lang beautifully contrasts the rigor of the training regime with the tenderness of the trainer?s approach to caring for the boys? emotional needs. The camaraderie, community and Cuban survivalist spirit is tangible amid the sporting fighting talk and the challenging ramshackle conditions.

This is as far removed from the glossy tourist brochure view of Cuba as is possible and it may leave you riled and emotional. Lang has beautifully built a story around these pugilists that is powerful and elegiac and an absorbing cinematic journey into the country?s sporting ethos and the dogged determined nature of Cubans.

Sons of Cuba, already winner of six awards including Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Latin American Film Festival 2009, is released in the UK on March 19th. It will go on general release in Cuba through ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematogr?fico) at more than 100 screens.

Q&A; with Andrew Lang (Director / Producer/ Cinematographer)

This is 29-year-old Andrew Lang?s first film, and he has been making it for three years. The Brit?s filmmaking career began with short courses at the Universidad Cat?lica (Chile) in 2003, and at the EICTV (Cuba) in 2005.

Q: What drew you to Cuba?
A: While researching New Latin American Cinema, a 1960s movement in Cuba that aimed to use cinema as a tool of the Revolution, I discovered that Fidel Castro and Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez had built an international film school just outside Havana at San Antonio de los Ba?os and I was determined to get there.
Q: Why did you choose to focus on the young boxers?
A: Before leaving for the film school in 2005, I discovered an article in the Times about the incredible success that Cuba has had in the field of boxing. Cuban boxers have dominated world amateur boxing for the last 40 years. When double Olympic champion Mario Kindel?n was asked why the Cubans were so successful in this sport he said: ?Cubans are fighters in all walks of life. Ours is a small country, but we live to fight.? I thought about this and then had the idea of portraying the daily fight of Cuban society through the fight of one of its boxers. At first I thought about following a teenager; then I discovered the young kids, the 11-year olds who were being trained up and who were chanting patriotic slogans every morning. I knew then that these young boys would be the focus of the film.

Q: How did you go about getting permission to film and was it difficult, ie can you talk us through the process?
A: At first I had only made a 10-minute short but on returning to the UK I realized there was more material in the story; that is, that I could follow these kids through an entire season. Once I had raised the funds I approached the Cuban authorities. We proposed working with a completely Cuban crew. At first we were told we would have a minder with us at all times but we managed to persuade them that my Cuban fixers would report to the authorities every two weeks instead. When Castro fell ill in the summer of 2006 we heard that two foreign documentary crews were expelled but we were allowed to stay because ours was considered a Cuban production.

Q: I noticed that there were strong pro-Communist elements throughout. Were you naturally drawn to these moments or did you feel compelled to include them??
A: I wouldn?t say that there are pro-Communist moments in the film, rather that we see the world through the eyes of young boys who have been indoctrinated and are not yet old enough to question what they are taught.

Q: Was it an easy task choosing the three young principal characters?
A: There were 23 10- and 11-year old boys, all from similar backgrounds, and I spent the first few weeks with my Cuban producer trying to figure out whose story we thought had potential. We eventually whittled down a short list of 10 to five and then three.

Q: What do the film?s protagonists think of the film and how have they fared since you filmed them?
A: Junior and Cristian are still boxing. Santos now only boxes occasionally–he?s now concentrating on rapping!

Q: Would you go back to Cuba and shoot and if so, what would be your focus?
A: I?d like to do a film about the new wave of young ?opositores?: the blogger Yoani S?nchez and the singer Gorki Aguila. There are others who do similar things that are extraordinarily brave.

Q: Tell me about your favourite Cuban-made movie.
A: Memories of Underdevelopment by Tit?n (Tom?s Guti?rrez Alea). I love the uncertainty of the message. Made at the start of the Cuban Revolution it asks: ?will what is happening be good?or bad?? Also Por primera vez by Octavio Cort?zar. It is a documentary about the ICAIC?s mobile cinema taking a Chaplin film into the Sierra Maestra and showing peasants a film for the first time. The shots of their faces as they watch are (I think) some of the most beautiful in all of cinema.
?A gem of a picture? Empire

?Surefire crowd-pleaser is equal parts coming-of-age tale and sports drama, though its real gut punch comes from its matter-of-fact observations of the wider sociopolitical context.? Variety

?A knockout debut. Entertaining and affecting. It has all the makings of an arthouse hit? Hollywood Reporter

Despite being a poverty-stricken, isolated island of 11 million, Cuba is the world superpower of amateur boxing. In the past 40 years it has won a staggering 63 Olympic medals in the sport, 32 of them gold. But little was known about how these results were achieved until Andrew Lang and his team became the first film crew ever to be given access to the Havana Boxing Academy. Here, a hand picked group of 10-year old boys rise at 4am, six days a week to begin an excruciating routine of boxing training. Chanting ?Victory is our duty! Fatherland or death!? as they shadow box in the dead of night, these are the boys Fidel Castro has called ?the standard bearers of the Revolution?

This fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into the Havana Boxing Academy is captured in SONS OF CUBA a powerful, uplifting documentary that is released at cinemas on 19 March 2010.

SONS OF CUBA follows the stories of three young hopefuls through eight months of training 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 falls ill, and all of Cuba?s Olympic boxing champions defect to the USA, leaving the boys contemplating a future that is altogether different from the one they have been taught to believe in.

Laced with emotion, SONS OF CUBA is at once intimate, personal and political. It goes deep into the heart and mind of modern Cuba, while documenting, from the inside, a country at a moment of historic change. SONS OF CUBA will leave audiences riveted as they both sympathise with the boys? plight and cheer them on to potential victory?

Interviews available, please contact Debbie Murray to discuss further.

Best Documentary at Los Angeles Latin American Film Festival 2009
Best Documentary at Rome Film Festival 2009
Youth Jury Award, Sheffield Doc Fest 2009
Nominated for Best Documentary, British Independent Film Awards 2009
Premio Coral Award for Best Film on Latin America by a non-Latin American, Havana 2009
Best Documentary, Foundation of New Latin American Cinema 2009
Audience Award, London Latin American Film Festival, 2009

Running Time: 88 minutes Format: HD CAM with Dolby 5.1 mix
Contact details: Debbie Murray at Aim Publicity
Phone: 00 44 20 8292 2818/00 44 7836 672 871 Email: March 2010

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