Before presenting the world premier of SONS OF CUBA at Full Frame last night, British director Andrew Lang announced he had completed the final cut just three days earlier. “You spend weeks in the editing room and you wonder if anyone’s going to see it,” he said, gazing out at a packed Fletcher Hall audience. By the film’s completion, audience members were cheering for its three young protagonists, competing in Cuba’s Under-12’s boxing tournament, and hoping for a chance at future Olympic glory.

But aside from a thrilling blow-by-blow conclusion to months of agonizing training, the film focused largely on the personal relationships among the young fighters, who revealed themselves emotionally in a distinctly Cuban fashion. The boys fell asleep on each other’s laps on a bus ride to the tournament, embraced each when they learned who made the final cut, cried in their mothers’ (and fathers’) arms, and hung their heads with sadness after defeating their opponents in the ring. In short, it wasn’t the boxing film you might have expected.

That sat just fine with the audience, who shared in moments of strife, and humor, under the captivating backdrop of a 50-year-old Socialist Revolution. “Were people so close because they were Socialist?” Lang said he asked his Cuban crew. No, it’s simply because they are Cuban, came the definitive response. But Lang said he’s still convinced it’s a combination of several factors, and his film succeeded in capturing this nuance without being heavy-handed. When one boxer’s father–a former boxing legend who must hacer la botella (hitchhike) to see his son compete–said his president is God, and Fidel Castro, we know he has mixed feelings about both, as he reflects on his national glory, and impoverished lot in life.