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NYFA Grad Directs “Hands of Stone” with Robert De Niro

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Jonathan Jakubowicz

Over the years, boxing films have provided the cinema with many dramatic elements that make for an award-winning film. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and David O’ Russell have showcased their remarkable behind-the-camera magic through the story of a troubled or underdog boxer that often undergoes a significant character arc. In New York Film Academy graduate Jonathan Jakubowicz’s most recent film, Hands of Stone, the Venezuelan-born director tackles the story of boxer, Roberto Duran (played by Edgar Ramirez) and his legendary trainer, Ray Arcel (played by Oscar Winning actor Robert De Niro). Coming off its impressive premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Hands of Stone will see its US wide release on August 26, 2016.

After graduating from the Academy nearly 20 years ago, it was a pleasure to catch up with the director who has certainly come a long way since his film school days.

Congratulations on your most recent film, Hands of Stone! Can you tell us a little bit about your film? In your own words, what is the film about?

It’s the story of how Roberto Duran and his trainer Ray Arcel changed each other’s life. Two legends at the heart of the golden era of boxing, and what they went through to get to Duran’s battles with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Why do you think Roberto Duran’s story is so important to tell?

It’s an inspiring story that shows how Duran came from nothing and became a hero for his nation. The son of a US marine, Duran grows up dreaming to take revenge against the Americans who are occupying his land, and his American trainer enables him to become the best version of himself. It’s a movie about a Latin hero, and Hollywood usually only shows Latinos as drug dealers.

How did this film come about and how did Robert De Niro become involved?

It was a process of many years. From convincing Duran to trust us with his life rights, to writing the script and sending it to De Niro. Then working with De Niro on the script for half a year until he decided to play the part. Then raising the money outside of the system, because no studio would make a movie about a Latin boxer. And then the best part: making the movie.


Would you say NYFA’s training was useful in terms of being prepared to direct films such as this and the others you’ve worked on?

I went to the University in Venezuela and graduated with a major in journalism, but NYFA was the first exposure I got to any kind of formal education in filmmaking. It was my “ABC’s,” the first steps I took to make movies professionally. That was twenty years ago. There’s no doubt that what I learned at NYFA helped. It was very emotional for me to shoot a scene with De Niro and Ellen Barkin, two legendary New Yorkers, a few blocks from the school. It definitely felt like those two moments in my life, being a film student and directing my dream movie, were connected.

What advice do you have for filmmakers looking to break into this industry?

I would tell them to tell stories they are convinced they can tell better than anyone. Duran is Latino; Arcel, his trainer, is Jewish. I’m a Latin Jew. I knew both worlds. Not many filmmakers know both worlds better than me. And that allowed me to make the movie with confidence, and confidence is the only tool a filmmaker can trust. Breaking into the industry is the consequence of achieving a goal. The goal is making a good movie. Focus on that goal. Make a movie that shows you can do stuff others can’t. High quality consumer cameras and computers give you an opportunity no other generation has ever had. There are no excuses why you haven’t made your first film. If you feel you are ready, do it. And do a feature. You will learn more from a feature than from 30 shorts.

Congratulations once again on this film and all of your success in this industry thus far. We’re looking forward to seeing Hands of Stone in theaters when it comes out this August 26, 2016.