“There’s something special about Dustin. He’s so hungry that we have to stop him from over-training sometimes. He’s so strict with his diet. I remember after one of my fights in Oklahoma, we were trying to get something to eat and everywhere we went didn’t have any healthy food. So, Dustin wouldn’t eat. He’s that dedicated. He’s without a doubt a future UFC champion.”—Eric Scallan
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”—Teddy Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena
Fightville Filmmaker Came to Pull for UFC fighters
It’s not uncommon in documentary films for a director to remain emotionally attached to a subject long after the cameras stop rolling.
But Michael Tucker, the New York-based filmmaker who co-directed Fightville with Petra Epperlein, admits he has continued to follow the career of professional mixed martial arts fighter and Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight Dustin Poirier with something bordering on obsession.
Fightville shines a sympathetic light on the rough-and-tumble world of mixed martial arts, following the early careers of two fighters, a trainer and promoter in Louisiana.
Poirier, who Tucker calls the “star” of the film, has gone on to great success on the UFC circuit, where he’s ranked in the Top 5 of his weight class.
Well, it’s finally happened. A movie may have gotten me into MMA. It wasn’t Never Back Down or Redbelt, and it certainly wasn’t Randy Couture in The Expendables. I’d seen some of the real matches but the footage captured in the documentary Fightville actually articulated the nuance and grace of the format.
In the opening moments of the documentary Fightville, a small-time mixed martial arts promoter named Gil (The Thrill) Guillory fishes for the words to explain the sport’s exploding popularity.Finally, he settles on three: “Fighting is truth.”
The film sets out to demystify an oft-attacked sport, and this demystification is justified through the eloquence of the subjects, the cohesion of the editing, and the raw beauty of seeing human instinct at its most primal form.
How extreme fighting captured a generation—and its money
It’s a departure for Tucker and his co-director and wife, Petra Epperlein. Their last four films, including the critically acclaimed Gunner Palace, revolved around Iraq. Tucker says it was the soldiers who turned him on to MMA. And he sees an interesting link between all-too-real combat and what takes place in the octagon. “We live in this very sedate, almost disembodied digital society,” he says. “And I think that’s why these martial cultures have an appeal. It’s something intense and real, with physical meaning and consequences.”
Chuck Palahniuk started a phenomenon when he crafted a disillusioned yuppie who finds his self and worth through underground fight clubs, and ‘Fightville’ makes it legit, looking into Mixed Martial Arts and the men who focus their boiling testosterone in the ring. The film digs into both sides of the equation: the young men who try to find focus with the sport and the efforts of fighter Gil Guillery to make it a popular and financially successful business. Turns out it’s more than just men beating the competition to a pulp.
Fightville may be one of the best things to happen to the sport
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?
Film lovers will surely adore just how gorgeously the film is shot and how it essentially plays as the Friday Night Lights of fight films. The film is full of wit and heart, and thankfully not always at the expense of the participants. It is nice to be reminded that there is a world outside of the big leagues in any sport and there couldn’t be three better characters to look at it with.
In many ways Fightville is an old-fashioned story – one about dedication, discipline and the value of hard work. It just happens to take place in the context of a very controversial subculture (one that is captured brilliantly with terrific camera work, including some beautifully shot fight scenes). And make no mistake, it is brutal. Guys can get knocked out in a matter of seconds. (Although much is said in the film as to why MMA is actually much safer than many popular sports – and it’s quite convincing.) What’s impressive about the film, though, is that it speaks so well to this culture without excluding outsiders. People who aren’t particularly interested in the sport should be duly impressed by this universal and very human tale of commitment, discipline and finding meaning in adversity. Without a doubt, Fightville is a knockout.
As I’d hoped, Fightville does what all great documentaries do – it burrows deep into its subject to unearth larger, more universal truths. Sure, the film will easily satisfy MMA fans (at least to the point that they’ll be tearing up the seats demanding more), but it should also excite casual viewers who perhaps aren’t interested in fighting or are even turned off by the thought of it. Because while the moral/political good-or-evil debate surrounding MMA is touched on, the film shies away from making any judgments and simply humanizes the people involved. It shows what it means to be a fighter, blood and broken bones and bad pay cheques and all, and it does it with respect for its subjects and for its audience. I couldn’t ask for more than than.
There are a few kinds of people in the world: Those who love mixed martial arts (MMA or “cagefighting” if you must), those who hate it, those who don’t care and those who are interested but end up wincing the entire time whenever they turn it on.
Whichever you are, there is something for you in the excellent documentary “Fightville,” a must-see
In some ways these men are living their own version of the American Dream. They learn the value of hard work and the importance of having dreams as they push themselves through adversity to make it happen.
Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s ‘Fightville,’ which examines the unabating mixed martial arts craze, is an exhilarating sports documentary and a levelheaded, piercingly intelligent treatment of a touchy subject. It humanizes and makes sense of a sport that, for all I knew, consisted of putting two men in a cage and setting them loose to beat the crap out of each other to the delight of hordes of bloodthirsty goons. ‘Fightville’ demolishes that preconception.
It’s a remarkable thing to watch the attitudes of an audience change from repulsion to exhilaration over the course of a film, which is what happened at last weekend’s premiere screening of mixed-martial-arts documentary Fightville.