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SXSW 2011: Fightville Review

I should preface this review by stating that at best I’m a very (very) casual fan of the sport, and that at worst I’m completely ignorant about the subtleties of mixed martial arts. With that said, I don’t think that admission disqualifies me from writing about a documentary film on the sport. In fact, I think I’m exactly the kind of person that filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker were targeting with Fightville.

The film profiles four individuals involved in USA-MMA, a “feeder” league based out of Lafayette, Louisiana. The stars are two fighters (Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback), their trainer (Tim Credeur), and their promoter (Gil Guillory, owner of USA-MMA). Epperlein and Tucker do a fantastic job at showing the nitty-gritty of a lower-level fighting league. From the unglamorous setting-up of the ring in a rodeo to the fighters balancing their personal lives (work, family, etc.) with their full-time job of training, Fightville provides a good contrast to the extravagance of the UFC– the millions of pay-per-view subscribers, the hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money for the fighters, the ring girls, etc.

But what makes Fightville truly great is how it humanizes those involved. Guillory isn’t a man who’s exploiting and capitalizing off of an audience’s desire to watch two grown men beat the living crap out of each other. Well, he is to a certain extent, but he’s more than that. Guill0ry is someone who hustles every waking moment to make his business prosper because if he doesn’t his family takes the hit.

Just the same, Poirer and Stainback–despite what the general populace might think of MMA fighters– aren’t two random dudes who just got out of prison and stepped inside the ring for a pack of smokes and a chance to hurt someone. Quite the contrary. Outside the ring, Poirer is soft-spoken (almost mild-mannered) and friendly (I had the chance to meet him after the screening and he graciously agreed to record a small video for Cage Potato). Similarly, Stainback comes across as a very analytical guy who puts a lot of thought into everything, which made him likable and relatable . Personally, it also didn’t hurt that his ring entrance was a tribute to A Clockwork Orange, one of my favorite films of all time.

It might sound like an exaggeration, but I genuinely believe that  Fightville may be one of the best things to happen to the sport in the last couple of years. It sheds a fair and unbiased light at a sport that has so often been vilified (who can forget John McCain’s idiotic “human cockfighting” statement from a couple of years back?). Yes, there is blood and brutality, but what sport doesn’t have it? As a casual observer, I think this film is a well-made sports documentary that’s a notch or so below the now classic weightlifting doc Pumping Iron. If I were true fan, I’d more than likely walk around with a copy in hand at all times and show it to anyone who’s ever spoken badly of the sport.

A friend of mine who works at SXSW told me that an overwhelming amount of films about MMA were submitted this year–no surprise given the meteoric rise of the sport within the last couple of years– but they only picked one. Fightville was the right choice.

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