You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Panama Plays Key Role in Boxer Biopic ‘Hands of Stone’

Robert De Niro has come full circle.

In writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s “Hands of Stone,” slated for release by The Weinstein Co. on Aug. 26, the actor plays legendary boxing trainer Ray Arcel, who came out of retirement at age 72 to coach Panamanian fighter Roberto Durán.

The role brings De Niro back to the boxing arena, where he memorably played Jake LaMotta in 1980’s “Raging Bull.”

The same year that Martin Scorsese’s film was released, welterweight Durán — played in “Hands of Stone” by Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramírez (“Carlos”) — was fighting Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans. Durán, 29, who many considered to be, pound for pound, the greatest fighter in the world at the time, had defeated the 24-year-old Leonard five months earlier in Montreal to win the welterweight title. But now, as Leonard took control of the rematch, he began taunting Durán, who couldn’t catch up to his younger opponent. In round 8, Durán suddenly turned his back on Leonard, and went to his corner waving his glove and declaring, “No más.” He quit the fight.

Before this, Durán had lost just once in 73 pro fights, winning more than 50 by knockout.

“I think that in the film, we managed to explain the mystery behind his decision to stop,” says Jakubowicz.

Durán would log 45 more professional bouts after that, including one more loss to Leonard, before hanging up his gloves at age 49 with a record of 103-16.

It took Jakubowicz, also from Venezuela, seven years to get his vision onto the big screen as it went through various iterations and struggled to secure financing. De Niro suggested that Jakubowicz go to Durán’s home country of Panama to raise funding. “I moved to Panama without a dollar and raised $24 million,” said Jakubowicz when he spoke at the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers summit in June.

“Panama hasn’t got much of a movie infrastructure,” he tells Variety, “so we had to assemble a film crew from across Latin America.”

Buzz surrounding the film prompted such companies as Mexican catering firm Cletus and post-production studio Congo Films, which has multiple locations in Latin America, to set up shop in Panama.

“I created a Latin American dream team, with a DP from Chile [Miguel Ioann Littin Menz], a production designer from Argentina [Tomas Voth], and a first AD from Mexico [Frederic Henocque],” says Jakubowicz, who hopes to assemble the same cast and crew for his next project, a spy action thriller with specifics still under wraps.

“Hands of Stone” also stars Usher (credited as Usher Raymond) as Leonard, with Rubén Blades, Ellen Barkin, Ana de Armas, Óscar Jaenada, and John Turturro. Newcomer David Arosemena, 11, who plays the young Durán, was born nearly 54 years later on the same date (June 16) and in the same neighborhood as the boxer. He was selected from 2,000 children who auditioned for the role.

The film’s story spans four decades. It was shot over 65 days on Arri Alexa digital cameras in six Panamanian locations and employed 15,000 extras and 350 crew members. A small unit shot scenes in New York for 10 days.

“Hands of Stone” includes 800 visual effects shots, crafted by Oner, the boutique Argentine VFX studio that also worked on Juan José Campanella’s foreign-language Oscar-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes.”

“This film would have cost $70 million to $80 million in the U.S., but we made it for only $24 million,” says Jakubowicz, who credits time-honed Latin American skills at bringing in films with limited budgets. The Panamanian government contributed seed capital of $2.8 million and allowed the production free use of a stadium for a month. Jakubowicz also relied on the expertise of his wife, producer Claudine Jakubowicz, who allowed him to focus on directing while she oversaw production minutiae.

The film became a source of national pride. “The crew would clap after every scene,” Jakubowicz says. “It was fun and emotional.”

Sometimes the locals’ sense of ownership overwhelmed the production. For example, when they were shooting at the El Chorillo slum where Durán grew up, “the whole neighborhood started lining up for food at craft services, thinking it was for them as well,” says Jakubowicz, who credits the catering company with mustering enough supplies to feed everyone. “It turned into a fiesta,” he says.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • John bailey Academy President

    Former Academy President and DP John Bailey to Receive Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award

    John Bailey, the cinematographer and former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, will receive a lifetime achievement award from the 27th Camerimage film festival in Torun, Poland. The Fest, attended by top DPs and other artists from around the world, will run on Nov. 9-16. Bailey’s credits include Lawrence Kasdan’s “The [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    Production Growth Stretches Crafts Talent Pool, but Experience Is Still Needed

    The growing number of outlets for movies and television means that demand for qualified artisans is at an all-time high. But while job opportunities have multiplied, the path to success — and potential elite status — is still a difficult one that requires on-the-job training, experience and skill development to deliver top-notch results. Some of [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content