Saturday, 17 April 2010
'Sport is just a flickering moment'
Sons of Cuba
Dir. Andrew Lang
(Windfall Films 2009)
Cuban boxing has a legacy, an austerity that breeds Olympic champions. Boxers who defect to America to become professionals are considered traitors, a boxer reaches the pinnacle of his career, or rather his life when he fights for Cuba. At the Havana boxing school, we see how Cuban boxing operates and Lang's film really illuminates the boxing mantra in Cuba and how it has earned it's reputation as the leading boxing nation. Following a group of 11 year olds, they train with a fearsome hunger to win, for the glory of la patria and to get their family out of poverty. Obsessing over weight and sparring full contact these boys commence their training at 4 30 am every morning. The national championships are on the horizon, and the club has to select only a small number from the club. The coach, Yosvani Bonachea Morgan, who treats the boxers as if they were his children, has to make the incredibly difficult selection. After he announces his selection, we see him crying in a bathroom, his back turned to camera, no-one loves or takes his boxing more seriously than Yosvani. The national championships do feel like a Rocky event, but I suppose it is – it's hard not be moved and drawn into the slow motion punches and route for our team, the Havana Boxing Club.
Lang's approach to the documentary is hands-off, no voice-over or crew in sight. The film is not observational however, there are various -generic in their set up- interviews, we have the familiar competition narrative, title inserts explaining things, and a sometimes laboured soundtrack. The edit feels very smooth, almost too smooth. That said, Lang achieves a wonderful balance in his film, showing these boys' passion and dedication for their boxing, with exploring the Cuban landscape and Castro. We see poverty, and the youth indoctrination of Castro's Cuba, yet it is never out of context of the Havana boxing school and its pupils, the politics never feels forced, it's only there to serve these boys' story. An incredibly powerful scene is when one of the boys visits his father, an Olympic champion boxer, who met Castro and is now living in abject poverty. His words 'sport is just a flickering moment', resonate as we see this man suffer. Lang in a q n a after the film said he would ease off the competition build up if he were to edit again – agreed - it's a little too much a ticking clock to the competition, 4 weeks to go, 3 weeks..The competition gives the film a narrative but the beauty of the documentary are the boys and Yosvani who are brutally honest and endearing in their interviews. Lang said the interviews were shot near the end of the film's shoot, this is clear to see, as there is a trust, and wonderful relationship between camera and subject.