Cradle of Champions
TYPE: Documentary Feature
Heroes, dreams, heartbreak, and redemption in the mosaic of 2015 urban America: the dramatic three-month urban odyssey of the New York Golden Gloves, the world’s largest, oldest, most important amateur boxing tournament.
Winter, 2015: the most fraught time in urban America since the '70s. In New York City, five hundred top amateur boxers come together in the annual Golden Gloves tournament to advance their professional and Olympic dreams. Founded in 1927, the Gloves is the oldest, biggest, most important amateur boxing tournament in the world. For boxers, families, coaches, and the inner city sport itself, the next few months are about fighting for their lives.
Titus Williams and James Wilkins, two of New York’s top young amateur boxers, trying to escape tough backgrounds, fight their way through complex personal lives and a three-month, 500-fighter tournament to meet each other in an epic final bout at the Barclays Center.
Boxing is an iconic “path out of poverty” woven deeply into American culture. Golden Gloves amateur boxing has produced many of the sport’s greatest names -- Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and numerous current champions. Immigrants have often dominated the sport: Irish, Italians, Poles, and Jews; black Americans from the rural South moving into cities; Puerto Ricans in the '70s; and now, arrivals from Central America, Eastern Europe, and Africa.
But competitive amateur boxing is threatened. In this time of violence in urban America, the activity that does the most for our toughest kids has been thrown on the street—banned and shut down—by every major organization that used to support it.
“Cradle of Champions” follows Titus Williams and James Wilkins through the three-month winter odyssey of the 2015 New York Golden Gloves. Their lives intersect throughout the rich story, and the cast of secondary characters is equally compelling.
• Titus, widely considered the most pro-ready amateur fighter in N.Y.C., an habitué of Floyd Mayweather’s training camp in Las Vegas, is a 25-year old fighter from Queens. Winner of the award for best elite-class fighter in the 2013 tournament, Titus lost in 2014. He is fighting for redemption in 2015, and to make the splash that will enable him to sign a pro contract that could change the life of his family.
• James, Titus’s long-time nemesis and another former Gloves champion looking for a big win to kickstart his pro career, is described by former cop Pat Russo as the “Mike Tyson character” of the tournament, “the kid who, if it wasn’t for boxing, would be on the streets,” committing crimes. Titus and James meet in the finals, an epic bout that insiders call "one for the ages."
• Nisa Rodriguez, a Bronx single mother holding down two jobs, a former drop-out who now fights for the respect of her son, and because the glory—she is a five-time champ—brightens her tough world. She is getting older now; does she still have what it takes? Can she look after her son and father and still compete as an elite athlete in the sport that elevates her whole existence?
• Coach Joe Higgins, a former NYFD fireman dying from illnesses he contracted after weeks digging for his brother in the 9/11 rubble, is Titus’s coach. Joe’s gym cleaned up a gang-infested park in Freeport, Long Island and is now one of the most successful amateur gyms in America.
• Coach Simon Bakinde leads a crew of Frenchmen from the slums outside Paris—-Arabs, Africans, and a Yezidi—-who have come to New York to pursue the American dream through their fists; their path to the pros, like that of so many others, starts with the Gloves. Simon’s path and Joe’s—-the immigrant and the all-American--cross through the tourney, giving their lives to their boxers in different ways.
Duquan Chambers of the Bronx, to some extent the poetic conscience of the film, is fighting to get his mom out of the projects and find a better doctor for her. Cesar Francis, a Panamanian, works hard but without access to welfare he barely has enough to eat—before his last big fight, he couldn’t even afford dinner. “Something has to pay off,” says Cesar. “And I know what it is. It’s boxing.” Cesar, too, like Duquan, is fighting for a better life for himself and his mother and sister.
The tone of the film is fundamentally positive, with significant heartbreak and ups-and-downs along the way. We discover a world full of characters whom we come to admire, respect, and love.
Stylistically, we set out to do something ambitious and unusual: make a work of gritty real-life cinéma vérité that has the rich, polished look and feel of a commercial narrative film.
Emotionally, CRADLE OF CHAMPIONS is about being intimately with extraordinary people at a major moment in their lives.
Metaphysically, if one may say so, the film is about “fighting for your life.” American competitive amateur boxing, a national treasure of great beauty and historic importance socially and culturally, is fighting for its life. The gyms are struggling. The coaches—a priestly caste, possessors of ancient esoteric knowledge passed along for generations—are fading away. The Man has thrown the sport onto the street. And our boxers too are fighting for their lives. They are literally doing so in the ring; as they say: “You play basketball, you play baseball, but you never hear a person say, ‘Let’s play boxing.’” But they are also fighting to change their lives: to make that impact that will start their careers and change the lives—or so they hope—of their families.
Tom Hurwitz, ASC - Director of Photography
Tom is one of America's most-awarded, most revered, documentary cinematographers. He has worked on four Academy Award-winning feature docs. Major recent films include "The Queen of Versailles", "Valentino: The Last Emperor" and "Tiger Tiger".
Maiken Baird - Producer
Maiken has been an independent documentary filmmaker for twenty years, most recently directing and producing "Venus and Serena." She produced, with Alex Gibney, the Academy Award-shortlisted "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" (premiered TIFF), and Co-Produced "Chicago 10", (premiered Sundance) a documentary feature on the Chicago Seven and the 1968 Chicago Conspiracy Trial.
Donald Rosenfeld - Executive Producer
Donald is a former ten-year President of Merchant Ivory Productions and has executive produced numerous successful feature documentary films, including most recently "Jodorowsky’s Dune" (premiered Cannes Film Festival, showed at 14 other festivals including Toronto, Telluride, Tokyo, and Munich; distributed by Sony Pictures Classics; 2014 Academy Award short-listed for Best Feature Documentary).
Michael Levine - Editor
Michael has edited some of the best cinéma vérité pictures of recent years, including "Restrepo" (winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize), "My Kid Could Paint That" (premiered Sundance Film Festival, official selection at Toronto and London; distributed by Sony Pictures Classics), and "Billy the Kid." Other docs include "The Central Park Five" (premiered at Cannes, official selection at Telluride and Toronto; directed by Ken Burns; winner of a Peabody Award) and "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story" (premiered Sundance Film Festival). Michael has just wrapped two of 2015’s higher-profile feature documentaries (Ken Burns’s latest film, a Jackie Robinson feature, and Amir Bar-Lev’s Grateful Dead picture). Has also edited numerous fictional feature films, including "Factory Girl" and "Studio 54."
Bartle Bull - Director and Writer
Bartle is a New York-based author and journalist whose work has featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Washington Post as well as numerous magazines and leading British and Canadian newspapers. He has appeared many times on NPR, Fox News, the BBC, and other broadcast outlets.
Connect With The Filmmakers:
UPDATE - November 07, 2015
Writer/Director Bartle Bull and DP Tom Hurwitz, working with sound recordist Mark Roy, had a good day of follow-up shooting with two of our most inspiring characters, Titus Williams and Coach Joe Higgins.
UPDATE - November 07, 2015
Editor Michael Levine and Writer/Director Bartle Bull enter month 5 of the edit, nearing an assembly.
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