In the last seven Olympic Games in which Cuba has competed, it has won a staggering 32 medals for boxing. The world knows the names of the great Cuban boxers: Stevenson, Savon, Kindelan and Rigondeaux, but few people know how this secretive third world island produces such an endless stream of champions.
SONS OF CUBA is a feature length documentary set in the institution that launches the careers of these great boxers: The Havana Boxing Academy. Every year, some 25 boys aged between 9 and 11, chosen from hundreds of young hopefuls, are selected to attend this boarding school. Here the state pays for their accommodation, training and lodging; and through a strict training regime, starts them on the road to becoming the best boxers in the world. The routine is intense. The boys are woken at 4am every morning to train for two hours in the dark. Their meager breakfast is a single egg and a cup of milk, before they attend a full day of (often politically motivated) lessons at the local primary school. At 4.30 pm they are back on the training ground for another two hours. They are allowed home to see their families for a single night every week: Saturday.
SONS OF CUBA follows the stories of three young hopefuls: Cristian, Santos and Junior, as they prepare for the most important tournament of their young careers: Cuba’s Under-12’s National Boxing Championship. The film follows the boys not only through their training and boarding, but also into the classroom of their primary school and back to their family homes at the weekend. What emerges is a film where we are able to experience what it’s like to grow up in a totalitarian Communist state and be groomed, in the words of Castro to be “the standard bearers of the Revolution’.
Their story has a narrative excitement and emotional impact more commonly found in a drama than documentary. In the last weeks before the championship, the pressure to make the team reaches breaking point as each of their stories explodes into drama. They are all on strict diets to fight within tightly defined weight divisions and they must train for up to six hours a day, until they collapse from exhaustion. Each of the boys suffers major setbacks and breakdowns in the final days before the championship. By the time the team boards the bus for the climactic scene of the National Championship, the audience will be deeply invested in the success or failure of the young protagonists.
Outside of the ring, the film also covers one of the most important moments in the island’s history, as we are filming at the exact moment that Fidel Castro falls ill and cedes power. We live this moment through the eyes of the boys, and follow their reaction as he subsequently fails to appear for both his 80th birthday celebration, and May Day. As the film progresses, we witness their growing uncertainty about their future without Fidel. The young boys’ Revolutionary beliefs suffer a further knock with the defection of three Olympic Champions from the National Boxing team. Suddenly, both their sporting and political lives are bereft of the role models that they took for granted.
In SONS OF CUBA, the filmmakers take us deep into the unseen heart of modern day Cuba. Within this secret world, they tell a story of a group of unforgettable boys, fighting not only for their own dreams, but those of the Revolution. As the narrative progresses and we witness key moments in the island’s history, it becomes apparent that we are experiencing a world that may soon disappear forever. The characters and contradictions of SONS OF CUBA play on in the mind long after the end credits stop rolling.
“Andrew Lang’s SONS OF CUBA…is a knockout debut. Affecting and entertaining, it has all the makings of an arthouse hit” Hollywood Reporter
“Young Brit helmer Andrew Lang’s 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
“Lang’s occasionally troubling but more often charming film gains remarkable acccess to the Havana Boxing Academy and offers a strikingly intimate portrait of the three rugrat pugilists” Time Out, London
“SONS OF CUBA is a gem of a picture, as it melds the glorious unpredictability of sport with the element of socio-political uncertainty that followed the announcement that Fidel Castro would be handing over the reins to his younger brother, Raúl” Empire Magazine
“Total knockout: SONS OF CUBA more butterfly than bee….By the film’s completion, audience members were cheering for its three young protagonists……A thrilling blow-by-blow conclusion to months of agonizing training….., under the captivating backdrop of a 50- year-old Socialist Revolution.” Indieweek
“Sporting knockout editing and cinematography, and perfectly selected subjects, Lang’s film provides a child’s-eye-view on patriotism, personal sacrifice, masculinity, and family bonds with poignancy and moments of humor.” Indiewire
“Quietly belies a poignant truth…Emotional but not exploitative, objective but not clinical, this is a top-drawer documentary…” Little White Lies
“Pint-sized pugilists…An intriguing documentary portrait of the Havana Boxing Academy, which takes in nine-year-old boys with the aim of turning them into world beaters. The moving finale will have you weeping like a chump…” The Times, UK
“A spectacle of yearning and heartbreak.” The Guardian, UK
“As moving and insightful a film as you’ll see this year. Lang’s film illuminates a system that for decades has produced sportsmen like winning boxer, Mario Kindelán, and artists such as dancer Carlos Acosta…” The Telegraph, UK
“Tears are shed and hearts are broken in this affectionate look at the Havana Boxing Academy.” The Observer, UK
“Extraordinary…a must see.” BBC News, UK
“Tears and cheers will fill your heart as these kids box for a better life. A knock out!” John G. Avildsen, director Rocky
“Sons of Cuba is a terrifically engaging documentary about a part of the sports world that has been overlooked. Andrew Lang’s affection for his young boxing subjects makes for a moving and revealing film.” Steve James, director Hoop Dreams
Winner, Best Documentary, Rome Film Festival 2009
Winner, Best Film on Latin America by a Non-Latin American, Havana Film Festival 2009
Winner, Best Documentary, Los Angeles Latin American Festival 2009
Winner, Best Documentary, Foundation of New Latin American Cinema 2009
Winner, Audience Award, London Latin American Film Festival 2009
Winner, Youth Jury Award, Sheffield Doc Fest 2009
Nominee, Best Documentary, British Indepedent Film Awards
Opening Night Film, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2009
Best Documentary, San Diego Latin American Film Festival
Best Documentary, Mostra de Cine Latinoamerica de Catalunya
Audience Award, Malaga Festival de Cine Espanol
Best Documentary, Festival de Cine Pobre Humberto Solas, Cuba
Audience Award, Utrecht Latin American Film Festival, Holland
Best Documentary, Festival Memoria. Mexico
Best Script, Festival Memoria, Mexico
Winner, Best Newcomer, British Documentary Awards (Griersons)
Shortlisted, Best Cinema Documentary, British Documentary Awards (Griersons)