“You need to be a fighter to be a successful filmmaker.”
So says Meg Smaker, whose latest documentary, Boxeadora, chronicles the story of a Cuban woman fighting to become an Olympic boxer in a country that bans women from the sport, and won the Grand Jury Award this past March at the South By Southwest Film Festival. Filmed guerrilla-style on location in Havana and throughout Cuba, Boxeadora screens again Wednesday, April 15, before the 4:15 showing of Bittersweet at Regal Hollywood 20.
A competitive boxer herself, Smaker was entering her second year studying documentary filmmaking at Stanford when she picked up the sport and decided to head to Cuba for training, a country known for its Olympic victories and one Smaker describes as a “powerhouse.” But not everything went as planned. “The day after I landed in Havana, I discovered that female boxing was banned in Cuba,” she said.
Smaker explored the city, looking for a place to train and someone who would take her on as a young fighter. Here she met Namibia, who would become the subject of Boxeadora. Training in secret since 2008 and with dreams of Olympic competition, Namibia was 38 when Smaker arrived, “waiting for them to lift the ban, getting older and older.” The age cutoff for Olympic boxing is 40. Namibia decided to leave the island to pursue her dreams and set off to apply for visas, with Smaker documenting along the way.
Due to the sensitive nature of Namibia’s training and concerns over possible reactions from Cuban authorities regarding the filming, Smaker shot the film on the fly with a 5D camera, a GoPro and a low profile. “There was no big-budget camera because we couldn’t when we were in the streets filming,” said Smaker. “It was all acting like tourists in Cuba.” Still, according to Smaker the authorities made their presence known in other ways, and at least two key and confirmed interview subjects dropped out of the project after visits from said authorities. When the film wrapped, Smaker saved it on two hard drives, mailing one to Canada and leaving the other with a trusted friend in Havana, to be delivered later on a trip to the U.S. That little bit she planned long in advance, after a colleague had his entire film confiscated at the last moment, while trying to board a flight out of Cuba.
“Here’s the thing,” said Smaker, “with any film, especially documentary film, making your film is a fight.” When asked what she hopes audiences will take away from the film, she’s a bit more relaxed. “At the end of the day, I just want understanding to increase,” she says. “Not trying to save the world, just understand it.”
Boxeadora screens tomorrow at Regal Hollywood 20 with the 4:15pm showing of Bittersweet.