The compelling worlds of film and boxing met once again at The Third Annual Shadow Box Film Festival, held December 5th and 6th in Manhattan.
Now in its third year as the world’s only all-boxing film festival, Shadow Box featured fifteen films that were shot or produced in seven different countries.
The School of Visual Arts Theater, in Chelsea, once again hosted the festival.
A surprise visit from former world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes added excitement to the screening of ‘Larry Holmes in the Arena,’ a documentary about the life and career of the under-appreciated champion.
Director Evan Gray told the inspiring story of Holmes’ climb from poverty to the heavyweight championship of the world.
Because he followed Muhamad Ali as champion, and did not possess a personality nearly as charismatic, Holmes’ skills and achievements were never given their just due.
The film also showed the treacherous waters Holmes had to navigate with promoter Don King to be paid fairly and commensurate with his stature as champion.
‘Hardy,’ a student film directed by Natasha Verma, focused on the life of Brooklyn’s Heather Hardy, a single mother raising a daughter while pursuing a professional boxing career.
Hardy was candid and revealing in recounting her life for the camera. A powerful scene unfolded as she described being raped as a young girl and how that experience shaped her view of people and the world around her.
The story followed her as she used three fights on a short-term deal to impress her promoter Lou DiBella, and secure a multi-fight contract. A romantic involvement with her trainer Devon Cormack adds a unique wrinkle to the film as Hardy strives to secure a better life and future for herself and her daughter.
The glory days of a New York boxing institution were beautifully depicted in Chris Cassidy’s ‘Sunnyside,’ a short film about the legendary Sunnyside Garden in Queens, New York.
Featuring commentary from some of the arena’s top fighters – Bobby Cassidy, Gerry Cooney, Vito Antuofermo, and Lenny Mangiapane, director Cassidy captures the ambience and excitement of New York’s last fight club.
The viewer can almost smell the cloud of cigar smoke that hung over the ring that served as a proving ground that could lead to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Arena matchmaker Gene Moore, among others, provided colorful anecdotes about the fights, fighters, and boxing characters that made Sunnyside Garden such a historic venue.
Making its world premiere at the festival, Brin-Jonathan Butler’s ‘Split Decision’ was a timely look at the island nation of Cuba, Cuban boxers, and their complex relationship with the U.S.
Focusing on supremely gifted boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux, while tracing Cuba’s storied boxing lineage, the film followed Rigondeaux as he defected from Cuba to seek fame, fortune, and a better life in America.
Considered one of the best amateur boxer’s ever, as a professional Rigondeaux must contend with a new culture as well as an audience indifferent to his artistic ring style.
As Rigondeaux climbs the professional rankings on his way to a world title, Butler interspersed commentary from Cuban boxing stars who resisted the seduction of a life in America.
Heavyweight legend Teofilo Stevenson, still regal despite succumbing to alcoholism, is steadfast in his assertion that despite being offered millions to defect, remaining in Cuba was an easy decision for him.
Two-time gold medal winner Hector Vinent was removed from the Cuban national team for fear that he would defect. He describes the U.S. “like a girl who loves you but you don’t like her, you have to ignore her.”
With a home in Miami and a new fiancé, despite a wife and son back in Cuba, Rigondeaux has firmly embraced the life that America has offered him, even though a secure boxing career remains uncertain because of his “boring” boxing style.
Butler’s book, ‘A Cuban Boxers Journey: Guillermo Rigondeaux, from Castro’s Traitor to American Champion’ serves as an excellent companion piece to the film.
As the film ends the trainer of current Cuban star Cristian Martinez stated that he believes Rigondeaux has made the wrong choice in leaving his homeland. “Ten years from now Rigondeaux will not be champion, he will be forgotten in the U.S. and away from his family and people in Cuba. What will he have?”
Butler’s interesting film presents the complicated example of what it means to be an elite Cuban fighter faced with the choice to remain in Cuba or defect to America.
The short film field showcased many outstanding films, including: ‘Greatness: The Story of Floyd Patterson,’ which eloquently explores the life of the soft spoken, compassionate heavyweight champion.
‘Champion’ was the festival winner for best short film. It tells the touching story of a former Iraqi boxing champion who has settled in Chicago and feels blessed to earn his living as a cab driver and provide for his loving wife and family.
‘A Fighting Chance on Long Island,’ produced by Newsday’s multi-media department, illustrates the profound impact boxing can have on people from all walks of life.
Focusing on the Westbury Boxing Gym, the fighters and trainers there provide vivid personal reflections as to how boxing, in many cases, saved their lives.
Ireland was represented at the festival with three films.
‘A Fighting Heart: The Story of Johnny Kilbane,’ tells the rags to riches story of the longest reigning world boxing champion of all time.
Writer/director Andrew Gallimore profiled the colorful life of Jimmy McLarnin, darling of the depression era, in ‘Babyface Goes to Hollywood’.
Returning to the festival for the second consecutive year, Matthew Dobbyn’s short film ‘Babyface’ follows 19-year-old James Tennyson as he attempts to become the youngest Irish boxing champion in 65 years.
The John Garfield Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to outspoken promoter Lou DiBella for his many and varied contributions to boxing.
Fans of intriguing and passionate films should circle the first weekend of December on their calendars and look forward to the festival’s fourth year.