Fists of a Nation

The Fists of a Nation

Directed by Pituka Ortega Heilbron


There are those who say that heroes are not born, they are made.  This phenomenon mostly occurs accidentally and more often than not, the least heroic are the ones acting the part.  The story of The Fists of a Nation explores this instance in the figure of the famous and charismatic Panamanian boxer, Roberto, Hands of Stone, Duran.During the sixties, seventies and eighties, Panama as well as the rest of Latin America, was looking to position itself before the U.S. presence in the area.  In Panama, this presence was even more evident because the United States controlled the Panama Canal.  Americans had resided in this country and hoisted their flag on Panamanian soil since the beginning of the 20th Century.
In the1950s, a man was born in El Chorrillo, one of the poorest barrios of the city of Panama.  His name was Roberto Duran and later on in his life he would be known as Hands of Stone.  This street kid, who had to fight his way through and out of situations to survive, got into boxing because he liked the gear.  When he decided to give boxing a go, he vowed that one day, he would be the greatest boxer in the world. So Duran begins to win, battle after battle.
While this is happening, Panama is in a desperate search for its identity and in a race to manage the signature of a treaty that would hand over the Panama Canal and all the occupied areas to the Panamanians.  To do this, the political leader of the country at the time, Omar Torrijos, needed  to awaken a rather weakened sense of national pride within the population. Thus Torrijos sees in Duran a perfect icon to make Panamanians feel proud and joyous of themselves.
The intertwining story of Panama-Duran, reaches epic proportions when in 1980 Duran challenges the golden boy of the United States, Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight Title of the world.  At this time, Central America was going was feeling the heavy handed presence of the Reagan.  Thus challenging and perhaps beating a contender like Leonard had huge political and ideological symbolism.  Duran’s popularity transcends frontiers and he becomes a Latin American heroe.
Yet the glory and pride to his countrymen and his fans lasts but an instant and Duran as well as well as Panama embark on an erratic journey of ups and downs that takes us to our heroe’s last “world title”, a pathetic bout that packs a full house in June of 2000.
Through archival footage and interesting interviews, The Fists of a Nation shows how nations like ours, that suffer from the dreadful disease of low self esteem, hang on to heroes no matter how unpredictable, unreliable and erratic they may  be because they have the courage to make their dreams come true, something that as nations we have to accomplish.