Maceo Frost may be “100 percent new to this whole world” of successful documentary making, but following the glowing reception at the world premiere of his new film Too Beautiful: Our Right to Fight, you’d be forgiven for assuming he were a master craftsman with decades of practice.
Too Beautiful is the personal story of a world-class boxer from Cuba who has trained for decades in the hope of one day competing in the Olympic Games. But the long standing ban on female boxing in Cuba has meant that Namibia Flores Rodriguez has never been granted the recognition she deserves.
You can see our full review of the film >here<.
The day after its premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018, we sat down with Maceo and Namibia to discuss the response to the film, the process of making it and what’s in store next.
Maceo Frost: [about the experience of being at a film festival] “I’m really enjoying it. A lot more than I thought I would be. I was a little bit drained from all the hard work, you know? Actually, surprisingly enough, I felt like I got a lot of energy from it and it feels nice. It’s like a release, do you know what I mean?”
Reel Steel: “do you think that’s because it’s been so well received?”
MF: “yeah, definitely. I got some really nice compliments that hit me really deep. Somebody asked me like “how old are you?” – I’m 27 – “how could a 27 year old white male go to Cuba and make a film and tell this story of women, of black women, and understand?”
They told me they had no idea what I looked like or anything, and they were really surprised and they were really happy about that fact. That to me was really nice, that they loved it that much and they felt that it spoke to them that much, as women. So I felt really proud.”
RS: “I think it’s difficult to watch it and not feel something, you’d have to be pretty stone cold not to feel something from it. How did you come across Namibia in the first place and what inspired you to make the documentary?”
MF: “so I quit my job. I was fed up with it. I was helping others – actually I was working in films, so it wasn’t that terrible, but I was helping other people finish their projects and I was like “I’m not doing my own projects.”
So I booked a trip to Cuba because I Googled my name and my name just popped up as like this street in Cuba. I started researching and it turns out that this Cuban freedom fighter was called Antonio Maceo, so I decided on going. I was there one week doing street portraits and just meeting people, and I met this producer named Victor who had gold teeth. I’d heard about him because he has a reputation in Sweden, like “if you go to Cuba, there’s this one guy, he’s Swedish but he’s not Swedish anymore” you know? And “he produces films, you should meet up with him.” So I find the guy, and we talk, we’re like “we wanna do something”, he’s like “you know what? I get my ass kicked in the gym everyday by this lady named Namibia, you should meet her.” So he introduces us, we become friends, we start filming a little bit and slowly through that we decided “ok, let’s make a short”.
But as a lot of these things go, it never winds up being what you expected it to be in the beginning. Through the years it just grew. At first it was like “two minutes, wow! Let’s edit it … oh, it’s ten minutes now! Ok, let’s film a little bit more, let’s make it thirty – boom, it’s forty five! It’s a little bit too long but maybe it can be a fifty five minute?” We go back to it and we’re like “fuck, it’s one and a half hours long now! We have to make it shorter!” So it kind of grew naturally into the film that it is today.”
RS: “how did you get backing for it?”
MF: “I was showing the film, the first version which nobody had seen, to some friends and they sent it out to some agencies. Then I started getting commercial work from just like “oh, that looks nice!” … so I saved up some money that I used in order to keep editing and pay for editors and to turn it into something more.
Then I managed to get funding from another company in the States that were like “we want you to go back” and afterwards we had made it around thirty minutes and we felt it had the potential to become longer so that’s when I was shopping around trying to get funding for it and I had the worst luck ever. Like, the computer crashed in the middle of showing people the film and the sound was bad and the edit wasn’t that good … and then I called a friend of mine named Raymond, the executive producer at Revolver who was like “I will try, give me two weeks”. But he calls me back like eight hours later and he’s like “boom – we got Adidas”. Apparently Nick from Adidas, his girlfriend had shown him the film like the same week like “this is the stuff you should do!” And then this miracle happens when we call him and ask if they wanna be a part of it and they were like “let’s do it. The fact that women can’t compete and there’s no support for them in Cuba, the ones who box, in 2018, that’s insane”. I think it also fit really well with their whole value of empowering people.”
RS: “How did you decide what to include in the final film?”
MF: “it’s so hard! It’s the cliche of killing your darlings, which in the beginning you don’t want to do. You put everything in it and then show it to people and they’re like “yeah, that doesn’t really add to the story”.
Then you have to decide whether that is something that “I don’t care, I want that shot to be in there, that’s my filmmaking”. Sometimes if there’s like ten people saying that this shot is not needed, maybe they’re right! So it’s a collaboration. And especially making sure that everything that’s in the film is true to the story and honours the story of the Cuban women that wanna fight, and Namibia.”
RS: “Namibia, why did you agree to take part in the film? Why did you want to do it?”
Namibia Flores Rodriguez: “in the beginning? Because he wanted to make something and I said yes. We didn’t have any plan about the movie but after he came back and I could see that people could see what I do, that people could see that in Cuba we’re boxing and training and maybe we can go to the Olympic Games and we can go to competitions.”
MF: “we’ve been talking a lot about it, and I think the film is a victory by itself. You know? It’s something that you [Namibia] have been saying a lot but it also had some motivation for you [Namibia] to be in the film, it pushed you a little more to want to fight.”
RS: “have you been back to Cuba? What’s the situation like in Cuba now?”
NFR: “it’s the same, nothing has changed for the moment. The girls that train that you saw in the film, they train at different gyms now.”
RS: “you said the film was originally going to be a short which grew, how did the film evolve in your mind? Was it just because you enjoyed filming or you noticed there was something important happening?”
MF: “I’d say definitely because it was something important. We made a short that we put online that got posted pretty much everywhere. I can’t remember if it’s like one and a half million views or two million views on the different platforms that it was on, so I felt “ok, we did as much as we could with the short, so how can we focus more on the problem?” and that’s when we realised that we had to make it into something longer so that hopefully people will know more about it and there will be a change. But also I think that Namibia’s story is so interesting and fascinating, and I think that inspires a lot of people.
I had people walk up to me and be like “I just saw the teaser, and I felt that if she can do it, if she can go on with her day, I can go on with my day”. So I think that’s like one of the underlying messages, you know? It empowers people.”
RS: “There’s a scene that I really liked when Namibia is running through the streets and then she stops and plays football with some kids on the street. Did that just happen?”
MF: “the girls were there playing football and we were filming the running, and we were like “oh there they are playing, come on let’s go!” They just showed up from nowhere!”
RS: “how was the whole process of filming for you [Namibia] between training and your job? Was it difficult?”
NFR: “I liked it because it’s about me, it’s about the thing that I do. It’s about boxing, it’s about selling cookies, it’s about talking with my friends … it was easy for me.”
MF: “I definitely felt that. Because some people when you film, they change when you put the camera on them, but to us it was super natural.”
RS: “is that because of the way the film came about?”
MF: “yeah, I think so. There was no pressure. We would just hang out and film, you know? Namibia is super organised and is really easy to work with. She’s always early and is always organised. She should actually get credit as one of the producers because she helped out with a lot of stuff!”
RS: “how did you decide on music?”
MF: “when walking around in Cuba, you hear drums and music everywhere. Like people just dancing and stuff. You walk down the street and there’s a door open, and somebody’s having some sort of ritual, with ten people dancing and all this cool stuff, and it’s crazy. So just by being so prevalent in this environment, I was like “we need that in the movie.”
I’m a drummer myself, I love rhythm, and there’s something tribal about drums, there’s this sort of energy that like … ever since the dawn of mankind when we were beating a rock with a stick you know, there’s something so tribal that’s deep inside us. So there’s a lot of percussion in the movie and a lot of singing and chanting too. What people don’t know is that Namibia – you know in Cuba, people are assigned like different gods. Do you [Namibia] have Ogún?”
MF: “Changó. So Changó is like the warrior spirit?”
NFR: “The warrior? Yeah.”
MF: “Exactly, so like the warrior spirit. And there’s all these different chants for all these different spirits, so we had a choir singing the chants of Changó and that music is in the film in the most powerful parts.
So there’s all these things that we did that people would never know. But we know, and the people in Cuba will know. That [Changó] is a really good one to get and not a lot of people have that one. So it’s really special.”
RS: “what’s the reception been like in Cuba? Have people in Cuba seen the film?”
MF: “not yet, no. But we have a plan so that it’s spread out through Cuba … because the more people in Cuba that see it, I think that would be the most powerful.”
RS: “what happens now then?”
MF: “for now, we’re gonna enjoy the release, show it at more festivals and we want it to blast out online to a large audience, that’s what we’re working towards. I want as much people as possible to see it. My next project is about two guys from the hood who want to get rich by selling toilet paper, and during this process they realise they can save the world. That’s my next movie.”
You can see Too Beautiful: Our Right to Fight at Sheffield Doc/Fest, info and tickets available here: