Hot Docs 2011: ‘Fightville’ – nothing short of incredible

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Directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein

2011, USA, 85 mins.

I am not a fan of mixed martial arts. It is not something that I know much about, nor something to which I have devoted much thought. Yet, despite my ambivalence towards a sport that is taking bars and gyms by storm, I found Fightville to be nothing short of incredible.

Though it is ostensibly about amateur mixed martial arts fighters in southern Louisiana struggling to break into the UFC, directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein delve deeper and ask the question, “What does it mean to be the best at something?”  Professional fighting is the most primal way to explore that theme. Though MMA fans will love this film, be assured that those ambivalent and indifferent to the sport will nevertheless find Fightville fascinating.

The filmmakers let their subjects tell their own story, which is a wise decision. Trainer (and UFC fighter) Tim Credeur and fight promoter Gil Guillory certainly break the stereotype of the thick-skulled, thick-headed fighter – they are articulate, eloquent, and intelligent. For the most part, these two men narrate the film. Credeur provides a philosophical and emotional understanding respecting the why and wherefore of training to be a fighter, which is no small thing. MMA fighters step into a cage and beat each other senseless until one submits – and if there is one myth Credeur is hell-bent on breaking, it is that anyone can fight. Few are capable.

Guillory, on the other hand, provides a practical lesson in the promotion and economics behind the sport – which can be bleaker than pay-per-view suggests. He is a knowledgeable guide with special insight into the hype and history of MMA, and a man fighting for his own kind of dream. Each fight he produces comes with the possibility of losing money and livelihood.

The fighters, of course, are the stars of the documentary. Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback are fascinating to watch, whether they are training or fighting – and there isn’t much difference between the two things. To be the best, these men must literally defeat every other man trying.

A great deal of the filmmaker’s success lay in the fact that they shot for over six months – and effectively charted that time in eighty-five minutes. Their editing is the anti-sports-training-montage, that old movie staple that can somehow take hundreds of hours of athletic development and make it look easy. This training looks anything but easy, and the filmmmakers make sure of that by building scenes and taking their time. And if this film does not look like a cheap sports movie, it also does not look like a trashy reality-TV show. Poirier and Stainback are treated with a great deal of respect by the filmmakers, and this translates into the audience becoming invested in the fighter’s dreams. It is an unusual documentary indeed that can turn the cinema into an arena and cause and audience to cheer out loud.

This film probably will not turn me into a fan, but it does win my respect. And whilst I know nothing of training to fight, I suspect that anyone who has spent hours working and grinding away and trying to become great at something will find resonance in Fightville.

Dave Robson

Hot Docs runs from April 28th through May 8th.

Visit the official website for the festival.

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