A Lola Films production. Produced, directed by Laura Plotkin. Camera (color, video), Caitlin Manning; editor, Gabriel Rhodes; music, E.J. Sharpe, John Birdsong; sound, Schulyer Haines; additional camera, Plotkin, Robin Hirsh, Henry Young. Running time: 60 MIN.
By Dennis Harvey
With Sundance buzz magnet "Girlfight" hitting theaters soon, enterprising programmers might get some mileage out of the nonfiction view of women's boxing portrayed in Laura Plotkin's "Red Rain," which has been traveling the fest circuit for the past year. Peek at this grungy sporting subculture would be intriguing enough, but short feature scores a human interest KO by focusing on Oakland, Calif., pro boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi, whose raw charisma is terrifically engaging. A 35-year-old world champion middleweight boxer at the time of filming, the compact, tattoo-covered Guidi has the humble determination of a born underdog - one accustomed to getting kicked around. Hauling herself out of a bleak working-class background, she's battled alcohol and drug dependence and battering by her spouse by staying focused on her game. But there, too, lie no end of obstacles: Women boxers have gotten scant respect from the boxing establishment ("women can't box"), fans (who are more accustomed to "foxy boxing" a la female mud-wrestling) and even feminists (when women fight women, does it subvert or compound patriarchy's errors?). Another problem, homophobia, arises when a leading boxing-magazine publisher leaves a message on Guidi's answering machine threatening to "expose you for the dyke that you are!" (Though she's already competed in the Gay Games, it's unclear here just how "out" Guidi is in mainstream women's boxing circles.) Nonetheless, protag is quite tough enough to endure such slurs, her morale sustained by her warmly supportive trainer, mother and siblings.
Much of pic is taken up by preparations for a title-defending fight against Dora "The Destroyer" Webber in Mississippi. While its outcome frustrates all concerned, Guidi wins us over with her tenacity, frankness and "regular guy" personality. Running time could have been extended a bit to amplify and clarify a few points. Nonetheless, well-paced effort does vividly capture boxing's less-than-stellar "backstage," where money, fame and respect reward very few men, let alone women. Broadcast fight footage abets cannily edited verite material; tech aspects are modest but solid.
LA Times Weekend
It's not easy being the women's junior-welterweight champion of the world. Blond and blue-eyed, Gina (Boom Boom) Guidi, exudes an appealing mix of tenderness and toughness as she recounts how boxing became a salvation in Laura Plotkin's 56-minute" documentary, "Red Rain." Guidi, 35, a San Leandro resident, is a recovering alcoholic and lesbian working on her self-acceptance. Raised by a single mother, Guidi and her three brothers admit to growing up headstrong and wild, but her success as an athlete has clearly had a salutary, stabilizing effect on her entire family. "Red Rain," as sensitive as it is succinct, takes us into a boxing world where both men and women train hard but earn only about $100 a round. In the years Guidi has been boxing, women fighters have become less a rarity, yet as self assured as she is, she was reluctant to discuss her sexual orientation on camera. It took Plotkin" two years to persuade her to do so. Guidi wants to be perceived foremost as an athlete, and hopes people won't conclude her homosexuality somehow led her to boxing. She has inevitably encountered homophobia. "Red Rain's" most jolting moment occurs not in the ring but just after winning her championship, in tears, she "relates' a message on her answering machine in which the caller declared that the publication Lady Boxer was "going "to expose you for the dyke' you are." On a far happier note, the mayor of San" Leandro announces a "Gina Guidi Day" and proclaims Guidi a role model for women athletes.
Sight and Sound
Take it Like a Girl
By B Ruby Rich
'Girl fight' heralds a new genre - the women's boxing movie. It's a spectacle that's a cause for celebration, declares B. Ruby Rich.
When Karyn Kusama's debut film Girlfight walked away from the Sundance Film Festival with a fistful of awards and a major theatrical pick-up deal- and, soon enough, invitations to the Cannes Directors Fortnight and a slew of other festivals - it was a public acknowledgment of a trend that had been building for several years. Films about women boxers had been quietly popping up on playbills in the form of documentaries, shorts and narrative fantasies. Sundance made it official. I still remember the sight, last January, of the newly crowned Kusama and her charismatic star-is-born MIchelle Rodriguez kicking back at a cafe table in Park CIty, hiding out from the press mob and downing caffeine to try to anchor their crazy ride as festival favorites. But their film wasn't the first, and won't be the last, to take this crazy new blood-lust and translate it into a new genre.
The boxing movie is a mesmerizing ballet of guts and gumption, a cinematic riff on the latest, most physical fusion of woman to warrior. Ah, women's boxing. Girlfight, to be sure, is more than that. In Kusama's writer-director hands (and don't forget for a minute that she apprenticed with John Sayles, master of the well-wrought if sometimes simplified tale), it's a story that explores father-daughter relations, boy-girl romance, coming of age in the inner city and the stuff Latino/a dreams are made of. But the breath-taking sight of Rodriguez giving and taking in the ring, slugging it out with all her heart, is in no way incidental to the story. Kusama knew Rodriguez looked like a female Brando when she cast her out of an open call of 2000 women, despite the fact that she'd never boxed or acted in a film. Women's boxing may just be coming into its own, but it's clearly already well versed in the magical mysticism that's made the sport a cinematic favorite for, well, forever.
l once donned boxing gloves myself. It was a decade or so ago that I entered a boxing gym for the first and last time. The occasion was a birthday bash thrown by Sande Zeig, who has since founded the Artistic License film-distribution company and directed The Girl (1999), her first feature. The party was held at Brooklyn's (Gleason's gym, not yet the popular film location it's become but already fabled for its legions of champions. Zeig's invitation promised champagne and boxing lessons; in person, she goaded us into accepting the offer. I still have the photograph on my office wall: me, a few pounds lighter and a few years younger, my hands taped and gloved, throwing bad punches at a laughing Italian trainer who just keeps murmuring, "Harder' Harder'" God, I loved it. And the anecdote isn't even irrelevant to this story, since it was Zeig who got Kusama to take up boxing, a move that led with inevitability to Girlfight.
Certain subjects seem made for the camera: car chases, gun fights, stalking and stabbing. Others always cause trouble, such as interior monologues and sex scenes. Cinema's origins coincided so handily with the birth of both train travel and psycho analysis as to make their depiction, for a long time, over-determined and irresistible: Strangers on a Train memorably combined the two, Boxing, similarly, is the sport of cinematic choice, one no cinematographer has ever hated, and no screenwriter, either.
Boxing has a built in arc of triumph and tragedy. It's more than a sport - it's a narrative. Boxing throws pure muscle and agility and a merely mortal dream of transcendence up against a scheming dark side of betting and price fixing, corrupt promoters and fair-weather hangers-on. Why screenwriters keep doing adaptations of classic literature instead, I don't know. Dialogue, maybe. "I could've been a contender" - hey, boxing has dialogue too. And unlike the dark winter of US election maneuverings, it has a moral centre. To take the measure of a man, enquire whether he prefers Rocky (I976) or Raging Bull (I980), superficial victory or profound defeat.
One filmography of boxing movies lists over l00 titles and still leaves out a few. Pick your brand from among the classics: John Garfield in Body and Soul, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. For a taste of the real thing, try William Klein's documentary of the legendary 1974 'Rumble in the Jungle' fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, an archival gem, or When We Were Kings, Leon J. Gast's 1996 piecing together of the same event.
I think I know why boxing shows up over and over in the movies: it's not only cinematic but supremely individualistic and restlessly mobile. It's got the footwork of a dance performance, the camera angles and photo opportunities of a catwalk, and the goddamn grace of a religious epic. The camera puts the audience in a ringside seat, right in the midst of the sweat and punches, the advice of the trainer, the joy and sorrow of every contender, better than any pay-per view. And, of course, boxing is always metaphoric. Even when it's the blood thirsty, un-regimented kind of competition heroism in Fight Club (1999), paegan to masculinity gone toxic. Boxing is visceral and immediate, no more or less than itself, and at the same time, anything but.
Now boxing' got girls. And as of the 1999-2000 season, a growing body of films to call their own: dramatic features such as New Waterford Girl (I999); documentaries such as Shadow Boxers (1999), On the Ropes(I999) and Red Rain(I999); and scores of short films. I rang up Jenni Olson - a onetime boxer and the film expert who runs Popcorn Q, the authoritative queer website for movies - for a reality check on this screen explosion. She reported with amazement her recent television sightings of women boxing - first on The Real World, then in a Tampax commercial - and verified the sport's new visibility.
What's going on here? Well, boxing, the quintessential guys' game, as indelible an index of masculinity as you could find, has finally been forced to give up its choke hold and let women into the ring. It may be the last of the sports to open up in recent times, but that just makes for an even stronger story. As far back as the Greeks, supposedly, women were boxing, if the drawings are any proof. Kate Sekules, author of The Boxer's Heart: How I Fell in Love with the Ring, did enough research to establish London as the probable modern birthplace of the sport: the earliest recorded women's bout took place there in 1722, with another on Putney Heath in 1728 and considerable newspaper coverage of matches into the 1800s. Women boxed in the 1920S in Boston and in Mexico, in boxed and lucha libre; there were French and German and Irish women boxers, all written about and then forgotten. The first US bout took place in 1888 in Buffalo between Mrs Hattie Leslie and Miss Alice Leary. In the US in 1954 Yorkshire-born boxing pioneer Barbara Buttrick fought the first televised women's match and eventually became the first woman permitted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, Finally, along came the women's movement and Title IX, the key piece of US legislation that required that educational institutions provide girls with equal opportunities to boys. Title IX probably did more to change gender roles than the movement that spawned it.
As other sports changed, though, boxing balked, requiring lawsuits and hunger strikes to perform its gender switch. It was only in 1993 that USA Boxing finally adopted rules and regulations for women's amateur fights. It was only in 1995 that the Golden Gloves finally opened to women. In 1996 boxing producer Don King saw the future and decided to get himself a piece of the action. He put a woman boxer, Christy Martin, on the same bill as a Mike Tyson bout; her victory on television made her an instant star and women's boxing big news. (It's an enduring grievance to women boxers that King an, Martin have never accepted a challenge from any of today's great women fighters, preferring to hold or to the title.) Into the breach stepped a new dynasty) drawn not from the ranks of the driven women who'd poured their hearts into boxing in the amateur rings but from a iconised lineage: Laila Ali daughter of Muhammad Ali; Jacqui Frazier Lydc daughter of Joe Frazier.
This history is so new that we're sitting right in the middle of women's boxing's first big buzz. No wonder films have started to roll out. Women's box ing offers the movie screen all the enticements male boxing has always provided, but with something more than the mere novelty of seeing gals take over a boys' game. Finally there's a reason other than sex for looking at women's bodies in the movies, a way for women to show off their forms free of degradation and powerlessness. Near-naked female characters in the movies who aren't hookers or strippers, exotic dancers or girls in love; some place other than the bedroom or the beach or the Vegas club where female flesh can strut its stuff.
Finally the guys are out of the picture and women are left alone on screen to claim a primordial power other than that of seduction. (True, Spike Lee tried to have it both ways in Do the Right Thing's dizzying pre-credits sequence with Rosie Perez leaping around in boxing gloves to the tune of 'Fight the Power', but the new films take the women out of the bedroom entirely.)
This shift in tectonic plates is fueling the invention of original new female characters. Take, for instance, Lou in Allan Moyle's New Wateiford Girl. Lou discovers she can make friends in a new town by KO'ing the unworthy boyfriends of the popular high-school girls_ As her own popularity rises, she's un-remorseful "If they're guilty, they fall," she explains, quoting the boxer-turned-mobster-daddy who trained her in the pugilistic arts. It's a great twist on the new-girl-in-town story, balancing the parallel tale of her best friend Mooney who's trying to get out of town to the big city Lou is so happy to have escaped. Full of typical Moyle witticisms and clever character inventions, it offers boxing a light touch.
The real-life heroines are more intense. Lucia Rijker in Shadow Boxers, Tyrene Manson in On the Ropes, Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi in Red Rain all throw themselves into boxing like religious zealots. Boxing is their life, their faith, their creed. In On the Ropes, when Manson, the most tragic of a tragic film's subjects, gets carted off to jail for crimes not committed, she resolves to use the pen as a training facility for a Golden Gloves comeback (and indeed manages to come back to Gleason's gym while on work release from the Rikers prison to which she was unfairly consigned). Guidi is seen tending a vegetable garden to stay grounded between bouts.
Lucia Rijker makes Shadow Boxers hum with her charismatic presence and single-minded desire to win. And here, the film form is equal to its subject. Shadow Boxers is a hopped-up film, full of images that shift and mutate from take-no-prisoner color to grainy black and white. The camerawork is expressive and light on its feet, close up and intimate, subjective as helL The editing (by director Katya Bankowsky, a boxer herself) owes a debt to music video, for sure, as it restlessly propels the viewer smack into the adrenaline-drenched, rugged, euphoric scene of women's boxing. Rijker is the real thing, a champion, just like the stars of the other films, but with more wattage to her smile and more moves to her name. Women boxers are hooked on boxing. Shadow Boxers shows us why, and hooks us too, and never lets up.
True, there's one little downside to women's romance with boxing, and it's obvious: violence. The women's-movement generation didn't raise its girls to be, uh, boxers. Or did it? Self-defence was an early principle of women's-liberation thinking, with self-defence classes ubiquitous in the 70S. Of course, they were intended to equip women to fight off male attackers. As it's turned out, though, impending rape isn't the only reason women are interested in putting up their dukes. Shorn of ideology, the fighting stance has migrated to the domain of pleasure. In the fitness age, boxing adds function to the otherwise aimless workout. It's only when women boxers step into the ring to fight each other that the question of violence returns to the fore. But it's not any kind of old.fashioned debate about whether it's 'OK' to hit another woman, or whether violence is 'bad'. About that, the boxers are matter.of.fact: they're competitive and they want to win; nothing personal. In the run of books that have begun to be published, from Sekules' The Boxer's Heart to Colette Dowling's Women and Sports, the explicit concern is violence's effects. One woman gives up boxing after a head injury that scares her; others keep on going but seem far more aware than the guys of the possible consequences. In a chilling scene in Shadow Boxers Rijker explains the pictures taped above her home altar: one is a baby photograph of herself, the other an old newspaper clipping of a fighter who died in the ring. She makes it explicit: that, Rijker says, is how she doesn't want to end up. She and her trainer are working to take her to the top and out, with all her faculties intact.
Otherwise, there's no clear dividing line between fact and fiction when it comes to boxing heroines. Lucia Rijker, gracefully taking questions at the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, looked every inch the glam actress even though she's a boxer through and through. Rumor has it that she turned down a role in The Matrix because it conflicted with her boxing schedule. On the flip side, Michelle Rodriguez, an actress with only a few months of punching bags under her belt, looked every inch a boxer on the big screen and was treated that way by the crowd at Girlfight.
What does it mean for women to enter the sacred masculine zone of boxing? Now that the sport's signifiers are scrambled and its old messages altered, the new meanings are not yet clear. Gender has changed the channel on the old certainties, here as elsewhere. What's interesting is the mutation: something is happening to sexuality and gender identity, and it's fascinating to see how well or badly the new entities will fit the established mythologies of boxing - or, for that matter, of movies.
Girlfight points up inherent conflicts that are reflected more pointedly in the documentaries. Girlfighrs story is centered on the character of Diana (Rodriguez), a troubled motherless teen who finds herself when she finds the gym, the training regimen and her own knock-out punches. She meets a boyfriend there, too. But will he ditch his arm candy for a woman who's his equal? And what will happen when they're forced to fight each other in the ring? Girlfight shows us a wise and tender view of romance. It wears on its sleeve a belief in the strength and sensitivity of both genders, but the updated girl-meets-boy, girl-punches-out-boy's lights, girl-keeps-boy story-line is not its strongest point. And part of the fault lies with the genre.
There's a tough balancing act involved in making boxing conform to screen notions of femininity and sex appeal. And it's harder still to maintain the image of the feminine in the unscripted world of boxing documentaries, where the spectra of (hush) lesbianism always threatens to shut out the guys. In Shadow Boxers Rijker is usually seen alone, but she's carefully assigned an ex-boyfriend; her press has it that she left him when the relationship interfered with her training. Manson, as On the Ropes tells us, has an ex -boyfriend who once beat her up before a big meet; with the stint in prison, to trade in another kind of stereotype, who knows? Only Red Rain's Boom Boom admits to being a lesbian. Tough and muscled, the champ has nothing to hide and no fear of exposure.
She's the exception, of course. Boxing is trying to have it both ways, training cameras on bulked-up babes while earnestly claiming there are men waiting in the wings. Sure, sometimes there are. But it's way more complicated, this relationship between a ring on the finger and a fist in the ring. The old love affair between boxers and their cut-men, between coach and coachee, was always homo-erotic and viscerally palpable. Women's boxing is bound to give gender assumptions a run for their money, as the nature of sexuality, femininity and power hangs back. in the wings and in the balance. One thing is sure. Films about women who box are likely to give us some genre twists the buffed boys never did. Girlfightis just the beginning.
© Sight and Sound
San Francisco Magazine
Shadow Boxing: Laura Plotkin wanted to make a film about the little-known world of female fighting. World Champion Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi was her ticket in.
By Sarah Henry
When the projector broke down-twice-during the world premiere of red rain, Laura Plotkin's unexpectedly touching tale of an abundantly tattooed, loud-mouthed lesbian boxer from San Leandro, Plotkin kept her cool. Less resilient directors might have crawled under a seat in the wake of such a mortifying technical glitch. But the Oakland filmmaker shrugged off the snafu at the documentary's debut at the Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema in San Francisco last November.-"Sorry about the projector," sassed the black-clad 35-year-old to the sold-out crowd at the Roxie. "It sucked. But it sucked worse for me."
Such stumbling blocks were par for the course during the two years it took Plotkin to make Red Rain. Hampered by a sometimes-reluctant subject-world champion boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi-the fighter's protective family, controlling handlers and a macho sports culture that didn't take too kindly to a gal hanging around ringside, Plotkin nonetheless persevered. In the end she crafted a compelling story. despite limited access and-that perennial first-time problem-lack of funds. It's been difficult. There were lots of things working against says the Connecticut transplant, who's spent the past ten years behind the camera toiling on other people's films and music videos.
It's been a rite of passage, like birthing twins, and I've been in labor for two years." It looks like Plotkin's persistence may payoff. Red Rain-boxing lingo for make it rain blood, go for broke-is getting noticed, and not only by the film festival crowd. Roseanne Barr, a boxing enthusiast who just happened to answer her phone when the moviemaker called to talk up the documentary, got jazzed about the film after chatting with Plotkin for 45 minutes. Although nothing concrete came of the confab, Plotkin's promotional efforts have not been for naught: Folks at cable and public television stations have already expressed interest in the work.
The inspiration for a film about a female fighter struck Plotkin a decade ago while she was working on a rap video at King's Boxing Gym in Oakland. Among the photos of pugilists lining the walls, one stuck with Plotkin: the heavily pierced, hairless black pate of Lady Tyger Trimier. "I had never seen anything like her before," recalls Plotkin. "She was strong and beautiful and awesome looking. She was very spirited, and I was moved by the picture. I was like, 'Who is that lady?' I didn't even know there was a whole circuit of female boxers."
Fast forward to 1996. Still keen to pursue the idea, Plotkin decided she'd have a better chance of meeting women fighters if she jumped into the ring herself. So she began learning how to spar at King's, a decidedly low-rent establishment on a dead-end, trash-strewn street off the 880 freeway. A former warehouse, it's dimly lit and in need of a fresh coat of paint; a ring with tired-looking ropes dominates one corner, dated weight machines and faded fight posters occupy the rest. The gym-filled with mostly African American and Latino men-is thick with the sounds of exertion and the smell of sweat. Plotkin thought an idea would gel if she hung around long enough. And it did, in the form of Guidi, a working-class boxer with a lion's mane, a killer stare, and a soft spot for stray animals. So began a careful dance between the square-shouldered, I50-pound pro fighter striving to win a world title and the pencil-thin, self-described neurotic filmmaker determined to bring her story to the screen.
When Plotkin first approached Guidi, she knew very little about the "Blonde Bomber." But the director made it clear she wasn't interested in a simple slam-bam saga for fistic aficionados. She wanted to present a behind-the-scenes account of a female fighter's life. Plotkin was also eager to explore why a woman would willingly traverse the male-dominated arena of professional boxing.
In Guidi, Plotkin found a complex character whose playful demeanor belies a troubled past. The film slowly unfolds to reveal the 36-year-old counter-puncher's dark side--drugs, alcohol, domestic violence -which she fesses up to in a refreshingly frank and self-pity-free fashion. Guidi's history (she's now sober and in a stable relationship) is nicely juxtaposed with scenes of her proudly pointing out pepper plants in her garden or snuggling with her pet rabbit. "I was drawn to Gina's charisma as a person, her perseverance as a boxer, and her warrior spirit," Plotkin explains. "But I was also drawn to her struggle with herself, her dilemmas, and her demons."
Presented with such universal themes in the film, you begin to root for Guidi long before she steps into the ring for her world championship bout. Yes, it's an athlete-triumphs-over-adversity allegory, and yet the film avoids mawkish melodrama. Candid and frequently funny interviews with Guidi's family, trainer, fellow fighters, and team players go a long way toward keeping the documentary solidly grounded and real. When one of Guidi's assistants awkwardly attempts to address how menstruation might affect a boxer's ability, you can't help but giggle at his suggestion for the "problem": "Maybe there's some medication women can take to stop the flow," he offers naively.
It was this lighthearted touch that appealed to the board members of the Pacific Pioneer Fund, which awards small grants to benefit West Coast documentary filmmakers. The local group gave the Film Arts Foundation a check for Plotkin and Red Rain on the basis of a ten-minute trailer, says executive director Armin Rosencranz. And the film was made on a tiny budget: Plotkin landed $12,000 in grants and spent three times that on her credit cards.
Although Guidi was initially keen to cooperate, her enthusiasm flagged over time. She admits now that there were days when she just didn't want Plotkin coming over to her house, poking around in her business. She also had moments when she doubted the one-hour program would ever get finished. Guidi's reluctance posed a particular challenge for the filmmaker, but she eventually figured out how to keep her engaged. "Gina likes to see things," Plotkin says. "Once I started showing her cuts, she started knowing where I was coming from and came around more."
Plotkin didn't have to press too hard to get Guidi to discuss her substance abuse and violent relationships (she's been both perpetrator and victim). But it took almost the entire two years of filming for the fighter to talk on camera about being gay. Early in the shooting, Guidi's brothers discussed her sexuality on tape. Plotkin kept prodding her to open up, but Guidi was afraid her sexual orientation would affect her career. "I've always been out, and in a way boxing put me back in the closet," she explains one recent rainy day from the comfort of a couch in the rented bungalow she shares with her live-in lover, five dogs, a budgerigar, and a rabbit. "It was time for me to just get over it."
It's too soon to say whether Guidi's fears will be realized. Sexuality aside, she has a tough time finding female competitors; the brawny boxer has had only about a dozen pro fights and is still struggling to find a woman willing to contest her world championship title. But in classic Guidi style, she no longer cares if the boxing community knows she's gay. She's come clean and wants to move on. "It was important for me to let them know, 'Look, you guys saw me from the beginning to the world championship and nothing has changed,'" says Guidi, a mailroom manager for a San Francisco advertising agency. ''I'm still the same person."
Guidi's resistance to Plotkin's probing was just one of many snags the filmmaker ran up against. She had to negotiate her way through the sleazy underbelly of the small-time boxing scene. Guidi herself sniffs at what she takes home from the sport-a couple of thousand per fight-calling it fun money. But that didn't stop promoters from preying on Plotkin. "When you walk into a fight with a decent camera, people think you have money and they're going to ask for it," says the filmmaker, who often had to pay to shoot a fight.
"I definitely got ripped off a few times." And she blew a substantial chunk of change on a trip to Las Vegas to shoot Guidi at a prizefight. Despite having secured an all-access pass allowing her to film ringside, Plotkin was kicked off by the referee, who offered no explanation beyond barking something about refusing to start until the "women crew" got down off the ring. "I went up there to get those close-up corner shots where the boxer is just pounding away-the beautiful stuff you're going to edit with-and I couldn't get it," she says. "I was pretty devastated." She learned to live with the artistic constraints.
"It's an interesting phenomenon when the creativity grows from the restrictions," she says. "I had to let something create itself almost. It's a different way to work." Plotkin describes her earlier, experimental student films as painterly, and she wanted a cinema verite feel for her first commercial feature. But she wound up with more talking heads than she'd bargained on. "When we put the first cut together I was like: 'Oh my God. It looks like Wide World of Sports,''' she jokes. "Red Rain was a bit of a departure for me. I think it has its visual moments, but the content carries the story."
A newcomer to the Bay Area documentary scene, Plotkin is no stranger to the film biz. She's pretty much done it all: producing, directing, and shooting. Plotkin runs her own commercial casting agency, Real People Casting, finding talent for print and billboard advertising campaigns. While making Red Rain, she juggled her many responsibilities; on the day of the premiere she even cast an ad. Plotkin's currently the camera woman on a TV documentary about Marvin Gaye and is on the lookout for her next project. For now, though, she's keen to reap the benefits of her efforts on Red Rain. Plotkin is especially pleased that her first feature-length documentary explores themes with particular resonance for women. Some might argue that there's nothing empowering about two women trying to knock each other's lights out, but such a perspective misses the point of the film, says Gail Silva, executive director of the Film Arts Foundation, which gave Plotkin completion money for the project. It's a testament to Guidi's coming into her own as a woman and as an athlete, says Silva. "She's overcome some tremendous difficulties, and she's had to work really hard," Silva says. "Her efforts should be celebrated and supported."
Plotkin agrees. "Women are very strong emotionally and spiritually, and we have great endurance," she says. "We're reared that way. We have great strength and power, but we're not trained to be gladiators in the physical realm in the way men are. So when a woman takes that on, her presence challenges every stereotype of what a woman is."
© San Francisco Magazine
Release Print Magazine
The Filmmaker and The Rainmaker: Plotkin scores a knockout with Red Rain
By Michael Fox
As depicted in Laura Plotkin's invigorating and perceptive one-hour documentary, Red Rain. female boxing is, contrary to popular perception, neither a made-for-TV gimmick nor a circus freak show. Red Rain centers on East Bay fighter Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi, a working-class woman who has successfully driven herself to become the female junior welterweight champion of the world. (The fact that the 147 pound Guidi has had only a handful of professional fights is an indication that women's professional boxing is stilL in its youth.) At first glance, Guidi lives a simple Life that revolves around a demonic training regimen. But Red Rain gradually reveals not only her sacrifices, but her courage in triumphing over alcoholism and homophobia. Plotkin herself demonstrated tenacity and courage in overcoming the resistance of Guidi's handlers, the opposition of Las Vegas boxing officials and Guidi's own reluctance to talk about her Life.
Plotkin. 37. an East Coast native and Oakland resident. received her undergraduate degree 'n film studies From San Francisco State University n the 1990's and her Master's in film from California College of Arts and Crafts. Red Rain marks her first completed documentary and represents a stylistic departure from her student work, which she describes as "painterly." Naturally, Plotkin was editing Red Rain, which receives its world premiere at the 1998 Film Arts Festival, until the last minute. To accommodate her schedule, we rendezvoused at a halfway point-on Treasure Island-and chatted in the cab of her red pickup truck on a windy afternoon in late August, while an endless stream of tourists snapped shots of the San Francisco skyline. Plotkin mentioned that in addition to the film, she is working on a book of still photographs, to be accompanied by her impressionistic writings as an outsider in the world of female boxing.
How did you meet Gina? The idea of doing a film about a female boxer first struck me eight or ten years, ago,"when I was working on a rap music video at the old King's Boxing Gym on East 14th Street in Oakland, and I saw a picture of a female boxer: Her name was Lady Tiger-Trimier, and her arms were up and her ears were all pierced and she had a shaved head! I was like "Damn where does that women come from?"
Years later, I got to the new King's Gym. I broke my wrist the day before I was supposed to spar and I stopped working out. There were two pros in the gym, a kick-boxer and Gina. I had worked a little with Gina's trainer, Rio Rosa, and he kept telling me, "You have to check this woman out." So I approached her two years ago. I called her up and we had a meeting.
Was she already the welterweight champion? No. She'd been a pro at that time for a year and a half, two years at the most.
Was she agreeable to making a film? Yes, although there were two specific issues when we started that she would not address on camera. In addition, she has a manager and a publicist and they were leery about what type of film it would be and how long it would take. Initially they thought I was going to film her a few times and have something. They didn't understand I was going to take on her slice-of-life story. And they're still miffed at how long this Processes actually takes. But we have a contract.
What is your agreement? After Red Rain is done and distributed, and after I'm paid and all the people who worked for me are paid, Gina gets paid. She gets 15 percent of the total gross for three or four years. Looking back, I would definitely say you should work with an entertainment lawyer. I got free advice from lawyers who weren't necessarily entertainment lawyers. I did some research at the local library, and I looked at other contracts. We drew something up that was very simple, plain English, no legal jargon. If you can afford it, I think it's worth it to work with someone so you are really protecting yourself. And also the subject of the film feels protected. Then there won't be any fights. In the beginning, Gina and her camp didn't understand that I was putting $50,000 or however much into it and not getting paid. People are working for free; they're going to have to get paid someday. I have to pay myself and I have to pay back my credit cards.
They had no demands about content or final cut? No. Only money.
You said there were two topics Gina wouldn't discuss. These were that she is gay and that she is a recovering alcoholic. There are many elements that make up Gina. But people have only focused on her boxing career, on her achievements and skills in the boxing world. They've never gone behind and bothered and annoyed her. She has a spiel that she gives to the press: "When I was 17, I got into drugs and alcohol." I didn't want to do the stereotypical thing that sports documentaries do, which is surface information-the guts and the glory of the person from the outside. I wanted to get inside and feel some emotion and really affect people. Especially affect young women.
Did you "bother and annoy" her? Yes, I did (laughs). She didn't understand that when you're doing a documentary film you have to be on the person constantly, and a lot of times I did not have access. Sometimes we'd be at fights and I couldn't get an interview. I had some horrible points where I felt like I wasn't getting the material because I didn't have access, or there was a facade between me and her family. They just thought it was about Gina's boxing career and didn't want to delve into their personal history.
Would any advice from more experienced filmmakers have been helpful to you? Lots of advice (laughs) I think it's always a problem with documentary filmmaking: How much are the people you're filming going to let you into their lives? I told Gina and her family that I'd need to be calling them up and getting interviews and pictures; but the next film, I'll have to say, "Look, it's going to be annoying, it's going to be bothersome, but I'm going to need to be in your lives a lot."
How did you get her to finally address the two issues she wouldn't discuss on camera? Her brothers out her in the film. You can't have a film where everybody's talking about a person being gay and the rough time she had as a teenager and not talk to the person about it. But Gina didn't want to come out on film because her manager didn't think it was good for her. Even though everybody knows she's gay, there are so many prejudices. Finally she said, "OK, I'll do it." Then when I got there, she didn't want to do it. And I had to talk to her for an hour, hour and a half. I was thinking, "Could someone film this? This is so fucking funny. The filmmaker is reading the transcripts to the subject, saying, 'Look, this is what they say about you. You gotta say something."
What's the challenge of shooting fights? Scorsese pulled it off in Raging Bull. Well, Scorsese had all the shots blocked out. My editor and I were just talking about how all these boxing films have ruined it. People are used to seeing beautiful in the ring" shots, and you can't do that in a documentary, The most important thing is getting on the ringside, and this was a major problem of the film. For Gina's Las Vegas fight l had an all-access pass. I was the only female camera person, and the boxing ,commissioner aid to me "Lady, get off the ring." I said, "I have permission from the promoter, from the hotel, from Dutch IV," I showed them my pass. The ref and the boxing commissioner in Las Vegas said "Lady, we're not going to start the fight." There's thousands of people watching, and they say, Get your ass down now." The male cameramen were down for me, but it didn't matter. If I had sat there and and made a big scene that would have irritated the crowd and the boxers who were all charged up and ready to go. I don't think that would have helped me and Gina's relationship. I was crying in the airport in Las Vegas. I just spent my last hunk of money, Gina wouldn't give me an interview and were sitting on the same plane. That's the boxing world, it's totally crazy.
Crazy as in arbitrary? Crazy as in crazy people. Scandalous mafia extortionists. Everybody I came in contact with tried to extort money from me. I felt like Nick Broomfield sometimes. (She pretends to hand out money.) "Here, here, here:' Sometimes you pay people, sometimes you weasel out of it. Sometimes you shine a smile and they'll patronize you and help you. Yes, I've been ripped off, yes, I got some things for free and yes. sometimes I paid.
Red Rain is an affirmation of one woman's determination, but you do hint at the exploitation of boxers. What I see in the boxing world is kind of a pimp-whore relationship. The promoters, like Don King or Bob Arum, make the most money off these boxers. Ninety-nine point nine percent of boxers make just a little money. Same thing with actors: one percent make millions of dollars. In one fight in the film, Gina's in the locker room for six hours, she makes $100 a round and It turns out to be a goddamn draw. That's really what boxing is. The boxer is a working-class athlete. You get paid $100 a round to get the shit kicked out of you, Or to kick the shit out of somebody else.
Where does the title come from? TItles come from what someone says or does. I heard Gina's trainer, Rio Rosa, say this thing when she was training or from the corner during fight. He would yell in the last ten second., of the round, "Red rain, Gina! Red rain!" It's a coaching cue: "Make it rain blood. Go for broke."
Red Rain reveals warriors of women's boxing comes out swinging:Oakland Filmmaker Laura Plotkin takes a Punchy look at female boxing.
By Barry Caine
Although tantalized by film for decades, Laura Plotkin wasn't aware of women's boxing, the subject of her documentary "Red Rain," until recently. Plotkin was working on a rap-music video in the original King's Gym on East 14th Street in Oakland when she noticed a picture of a female boxer named Lady Tiger Trimiar. "When I saw that picture, that's the first time I ever realized there was a whole network of female professional boxers," says Plotkin, an Oakland resident. "The picture of the woman impressed me so deeply because it's unusual when women traverse worlds that are traditionally male. She was so proud and strong and dynamic. it fascinated me. It fascinated me that a woman would have the physical strength and ability and desire to be a warrior like a man, The image stayed in my mind .... I knew eventually I was going to research this and make a film about it"
About three years later. when training at Kings Gym to learn about boxing first-hand, Plotkin discovered Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi. The female junior middleweight champion of the world. San Leandro-based Guidi became the focus of Plot kin's 56-minute movie.
"The fIrst time I met Gina, I met her at her work," the 35-year-old Connecticut native recalls. "She came around the corner and she was so alive and charismatic and warm and animated. She was like a lion with her gold hair and her golden sculpted muscles. And she was very alive. "I knew from the minute I met her it was going to be an interesting Journey,"
Red Rain the result of that Journey. screens at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Victoria Theatre/ 2961 16th St., San Francisco as part of the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Flim Festival. The event runs' Thursday through June 27 at the Castor, Roxie and Victoria theaters. Call (415) 703-8663," "Red Rain" also' screens at -6 p.m. June 27 on Channel 9.
Is there anything in your past that pointed toward your becoming a filmmaker? Since I was young, I've always been fascinated with stories of people's lives, the complications, the characters. Even as a very young person I always asked a lot of questions.
Why make a documentary on female boxing? Women are not generally trained in life to be physical, to be warrIors, to be gladIators; I think one of the reasons I was interested in doing a film on female boxing was because it blows every stereotype out of the water about what a woman is and how strong she can be and how determined and focused she can be on a physical level. We're emotionally strong and we're spiritually strong, but we're not raised to be gladiators. So when I see a woman who is a gladiator or a warrior, it fascinates me; I want to know what makes that woman tick, what's in her mind and bring that out for others to see.
You've got a movie about a woman boxer who also happens to be gay. In terms of a target audience, that's like a niche within a niche. What's the appeal for someone not in those niches? I think Red Rain has incredible universal themes, which stem from one person's life. Everyone in their life has to fight against their own demons to succeed and survive. Gina is no different from anybody else. She comes out and she's an alcoholic and comes from the street. She had a tough upbringing. She didn't have a dad. She had three brothers, served as the leader, filled in for Mom, who was working .... When the film is all said and done, it's a story of triumph.
Gina, isn't different from any other boxer, male or female. Most boxers are not rich and don't have a lot of choices in life. Gina is working class, came from the streets, is very street-smart. She took all the energy and anger and frustration and Joy and wrapped them up into one thing and used it. That comes through her in boxing. This his how she expresses herself. This is her art form. And I think that, as an athlete, as a woman, as a person, who struggles with her demons, she's someone everyone can relate - an individual trying to reach her goals.
Where did the title "Red Rain" come from? It's like a coaching cue from her trainer. At the lO-second mark in a boxing match, you hear a thwack - a smack on the canvas that lets the boxers know there are 10 seconds left in the round, And, at the same time, I'd hear Gina's trainer shout, "Red rain, Gina, red rain." I kept hearing it, and it means go for broke, make it rain blood, take her out.
What was the original concept. and did it change? The original idea was to shoot two women of different orientations. We have Gina; she's Italian, she's gay, she's white. OK. we'll do her and then we'll do another woman, who's Latino or black and straight from a different part of the country. That was originally my idea. But after we got into Gina's life, I feIt like it would be more interesting to focus on one person's life and get into that instead of doing the compare-and-contrast kind of thing. To me, it seemed that it was more intense and concentrated if we just went as far as she would allow us to go with her.
What surprised you about Gina? That she is a complex person, and that she is a survivor, and she's a generous person.
What surprised you about yourself while making the film? My tenacity. It's kind of like, as Gina was going for the championship belt, which was her goal, my goal at the same time was to finish the film. And we both accomplished what we wanted.
© Oakland Tribune
Local Focus: Behind the lens of three Bay Area Filmmakers
By Will Viharo
The Bay Area is known around the world as a refuge for the individual maverick with a vision, as well as a pit stop for the itinerant hipster film is gradually supplementing literature as modern culture's primary method of communication and reflection. But why is Los Angeles still the film capital of the world and not San francIsco or even oakland? Some say the Southern Californian landscape is like a big blank canvas which can be used to paint sundry, personalized Images on, making It look like anywhere else in this world-or even another. The Bay Area has a distinct personality all Its own: You can't really mistake It for anyplace else. That same unique quality can be attributed to the local rebels who stake their claim this turf, rather than attemptIng to blend In With LA's murderous media-mongering masses. Three local filmmakers--the first specializing in narrative film, the second in documentaries, and the third focusing on multimedia-illustrate the trials and rewards of this artistic autonomy. as well as prove the vitality of the local fllmmaking community.
REDBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE: Ron Nilson is the embodiment of the Bay Area's independent spirit. A Midwestern native, a wanderer of the country and now a Berkeley resident, he shoots most of his stuff in San Francisco. " I am attached to this place emotionally" , he told me recently during a rare breather in between projects." the kind of filmmaking I'm trying has to do with living off the land you're on, exploring things that are germane to me as an observer, an interpreter, a window in a mirror. I don't want to go somewhere else I don't know...the point is, this is true for most poets too-unless their subject is wandering or some kind of universal way we all connect ourselves place to place- the best poetry comes out of particulars out of details. The best filmmaking does too.
A few of Rob's better known films, available at adventurous video stores like downtown Berkeley's Moving Image and Piedmonts Video Room are Signal 7, Northern Lights, On the Edge, Heat, and Sunlight and the recent Chalk. Which was cast almost exclusively with homeless actors. Rob uses San Francisco the same intimate way Raymond Chandler used Los Angeles, or Wood Allen, uses Manhattan-except Rob is not interested in so much what goes on in the penthouses of Nob Hill. Like Chandler, he finds more drama in the gutter. " Nobody knows the alley's of San Francisco like I do", he says. " Where the light is at night, where the dipsy dumpsters are. I don't even know it all, but no other filmmaker knows it like I do, because I study it. I go out there at night, always looking for a particular angle, and not just from the visual standpoint.
Rob conducts a weekly acting workshop called Tenderloin Action Group (or simply TAG). from this colorful pool he casts the bulk of his film projects, including a few of the homeless actors in Chalk. "Through the workshop, these are the folks I know and have come to be inspired by, to play different roles. Sometimes it might take me three years to understand what role somebody might play. It takes experience with people in the workshop to come to that decision". Currently he is wrapping up production on Scheme, part of his ambitious Nine of Night series of films (and starring my fiancee actress Monica Cortes, a TAG regular). Rob is a poet and a painter as well as a filmmaker, and for him the aesthetic differences between the three exist only in terms of finance. Poetry and painting require low production costs. Making movies is a more economically challenging process. Other than that, he seems to approach all of his projects with the same passion, vision and spontaneity whether his tool at hand is a pen, brush, or camera.
Rob's idol-if he has one- is the late John Cassevettes. Like his mentor, Rob encourages his actors to improvise a scene once given the set-up. This technique results in a visceral, vicarious experience missing from scripted interactions. It is also full of surprises for the actors as well as the audience. Rob thrives on this dynamic form of spontaneous drama. Also like Cassavettes, Rob takes acting jobs in projects he wouldn't even pay to see himself, including a stint as drug lord on Miami Vice.
After winning awards as both Canne and Sundance (in 1979 Northern Lights and in 1988 for Heart and Sunlight) and gaining accolades from his piers, if not huge acceptance by the general public. Rob is finally garnering serious media attention, primarily for his innovative marketing techniques promoting the making of Scheme. Rehearsal scenes from the film and others can be found on the internet- fresh from the camera- at the increasingly popular, and significant, San Francisco based www.ifilm.net. CNN, Newsweek, the NewYork Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and several local TV stations have reported from the roving set of Scheme.
Another groundbreaking aspect of Rob's current projects is his use of the digital video (DV). He has often shot his films on video before blowing them up to film for distribution, for reasons of both cost-effectiveness and convenience, but recent advances in technology have only made this process more accessible-not only for a veteran pro like Rob but for any aspiring filmmaker. Rob has always preferred the aesthetics of shooting on video, anyway, because of its immediacy "Right from the beginning, video was the secrete because it allowed you with less expense, less equipment, low light situations, to get closer to the human dilemma, to get closer to the human heart. It was an instrument of intimacy. Most of the kids nowadays just want to make any old genre film on DV, which makes no sense. To me, DV is a technique that allows you to get closer to human nature." Rob says in a decidedly different stance from, for instance George Lucas and his Star Wars extravaganza, which will be shot digitally from this point forward. Rob has no intention of computerizing his actors, however he wants, raw, organic experience captured by the lens of any camera he chooses to use, even if it is miniature robot. This is the beginning of a revolution in the filmmaking world, and the Bay Area film Scene is at the forefront.
"I COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER..." Laura Plotkin is best known her for documentary on Oakland female boxing legend Gina " Boom Boom" Guidi, Red Rain. It has recently played at several venues around the Bay Area including the Parkway at at festivals around the world.
But..." I love Oakland!" she shouted into my little tape recorder recently at Gaylord's Cafe on Piedmont Ave, not far from her home.
Laura, a Connecticut native, has lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years and has no plans to move. Ever." I went to San Francisco State, I was in the film department, I got my BA in film production at SF State and My masters in film from California College of Arts and Crafts." She first thought of the idea of Red Rain while working on a rap video in East Oakland tens years ago in a boxing gymnasium, and a picture of Lady Tiger T. caught her eye. " I didn't even know there were female professional boxers. I had made a lot of little films, but when I saw that picture, I wondered who this women was and why she was in a sport dominated by men. Culturally and socially women are not raised to be gladiators or warriors. We're very strong emotionally, spiritually and physically-but not to the extent where we take it to the extreme. At first Laura just wanted to focus on this facet, since at the time female athletes weren't treated with the media reverence they are now. But then a more intimate portrait begins to emerge as she delved into her complex subject. " I knew I didn't want to make a typical sports film. It's what made the person that brings them to this athleticism. What attracted me to Gina was not only the fact she had been boxing for many years, but she had demons. She wasn't just a warrior, a gladiator-she was a woman who had a hard life. That struggle with one's self really makes a film more interesting and universal.
Laura say's she relates to Gina's tenacity. He decision not to cruise in the LA fast lane has it drawbacks, as well as rewards. The hardships, as Rob alluded to, come from financing. The compensation is the support Laura finds in the Bay Area film community. "The film Arts Foundation (FAF) is one of the most supportive and one-of-a-kind institutions anywhere. They give grants, they have equipment, they give counseling, they put out a newsletter....that's the first thing a filmmaker does when they come out here, join Film Arts Foundation. It is a non-profit organization supporting Bay Area Filmmakers, narrative and documentary. It has been around for 25 years."
Laura elaborated on the key difference between Hollywoods North and South. "Up north, as opposed to down south, I think the quality of work that comes out of the Bay Area is amazing. There were two or three local films just nominated for Academy Awards. Regret to Inform, about war widows, and the Lenny Bruce film, Swear to Tell the Truth; both are so great. 1 think the quality of filmmakers. and especially documentary filmmakers. is phenomenal up here. The Bay Area has always been less commercial-minded and more interested in self-reflexive films that deal with community and social issues!' Laura and I commiserated about the desperation in LA's air that hits you as soon as you get off the plane, as stifling and unhealthy as the smog. "Everybody (in LA) wants to climb the ladder, everybody wants to be rich and famous. People here are more artisans who want to make work that is more deep and rich and has some historical reference. There's a more supportive community here, as opposed to a competitive community."
Laura's work-in-progress, which must remain mysterious at this point. is centered on the life of a jazz icon.
Combining disparate visual and aural elements to create a multimedia tapestry may best reflect the frenetic nature of our apocalyptic culture, and Berkeley resident Antero Alii, co-founder of the Nomad Video Film Festival, is all over that concept. He does a little of what Rob does and a little of what Laura does, but with a wholly original approach. Self-taught in the arts of filmmaking ("I would never go to film school-I'd rather spend the money to make the movie."). Antero's first love and ambition is play-writing. But Nomad consumes much of his energies.
Antero, who moved his company to Berkeley from Seattle just over a year ago, explained what Nomad is all about: "Basically, the NFF is an annual Pacific Coast touring venue, in its seventh year. We stay between Washington. Oregon and California. Every May and June, it alternates. This year we're in Berkeley at the Fine Arts Cinema. We stay between San Francisco and Seattle, basically. We're dedicated to what we call 'alternative media'; we appeal to 'media makers.' The reason we use that term is, personally 1 believe the word 'filmmaker' is thrown around way too loosely. A lot of people who call themselves filmmakers are not actually making films. (We do this) out of respect to people actually working in the film medium, which is a very difficult medium-the lighting alone for films is a tremendous effort. Every year we explore a different theme. This year's theme is the 'video poem.' We invite any mix of video, film, or computer animation. We usually get submissions combining all three. We are looking for people who are not just creating hybrids technologically by mixing mediums, but also in their thinking and their ideas. Host of what we explore is definitely alternative to mainstream values conventions and ideals, staying on the fringe, out of our own excitement for what happens out there.
The "video poem" showcased this year were short pieces. averaging minutes. "People use poetry as some kind narrative to visual and musical accompaniment. I wasn't poets reading their works-it was finding the story with in the poem". I juxtaposed this with the films of Nilsson, who find the poem within the story. John Cassavettes is on my top three of four directors Antero enthused, another common thread with Rob. Antero also likes the intimacy achieved digital video, as well as its cost efficiency.
Antero is not just an impresario-he makes his own films as well. Like any true artist, he makes films for himself, then finds an audience for it afterwards. For Antero, promotion is an after thought. His ambitious project a multi-format time-travel feature called The Drive-Time successfully screened at the Pacific Film Archives and a rave review by Wired Magazine, can now be ordered from b-movie distribution service normally reserved for vampire/slasher flicks, but now also branching into Antero's brand cutting-edge cinema. Antero's most recent "odd-ball" documentary Crux, "about a group of eight individuals that belong to an esoteric order to explore through their own ritual process the crucifixion archetype, not related to christianity, but more idiosyncratic to their own beliefs," screens at the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley Nov 27th. Why did he make this film? " out of my own need to know these things, to clarify these big questions." Reviews and a complete list of Antero's films can be found at www.paratheatrical.com
Aspiring filmmakers here-abouts should feel inspired by theses three disparate talents. Rob Nilsson approaches his craft from ground-zero street level, Laura Plotkin went with the formal education route but retains her own individuality, and Antero Alli finds his voice mixing several different mediums, yet all their creative muses seem to echo one another. The relative but laudable success of these visual artists prove there is am ample opportunity right here for film students who normally move to LA or New York to continue their education and careers. Later, after they make their mark and money like Fancis Coppola, they may move back here and set up a home base-but rarely set up their movies here. This is changing as well. The Bay Area is becoming a breeding ground as well as Mecca. The local film scene is swinging, baby. Eat your heart out Hollywood. Or leave it in San Francisco and Oakland.
© Oakland Urbanview
Metro Source Magazine
Hit and Miss: the trouble with making movies about Gay Athletes
By Gregg Kilday
We're the worst softball team in history," complains one of the twenty-something gay boys in The Broken Hearts League, a new comedy about West Hollywood and its discontents, which opens in July. Dean Cain, playing an actor-waiter-stud-muffin, is the only member of the team capable of hitting one out of the park-the rest of the boys in this particular band play to the conventional homo type: missing plays, dropping balls, striking out. Athletics are just not their thing. Their fumbling on the field may draw knowing laughs of recognition, but, increasingly, as real-life gay athletes step up to the plate, that old stereotype is looking slightly frayed. And Hollywood's reluctance to grapple with a new generation of gay jocks is looking just as dated. While openly gay sportsmen and women still make up an admittedly small tribe, the growth of the Gay Games, not to mention all those proliferating gay amateur leagues, suggest that there are a lot of dramatic stories out there that have yet to be captured on film.
More than 25 years ago, Patricia Nell Warren published The Front Runner, her groundbreaking novel about a romance that develops between a young track star and his coach as they train for the '76 Olympics. Paul Newman, then at the peak of his stardom, picked up the film rights almost immediately, but plans for a feature film in which he would play coach Harlan Brown never materialized. After years of frustration as the project passed through the hands of several other producers, the rights finally reverted back to Warren, who, along with screenwriter Barry Sandler (Making Love), has written a new film adaptation. But finding the financing to launch the project is proving to be difficult as ever.
"People have incredible affection for The Front Runner", say's producer Tyler St. Marks, " but the biggest challenge is overcoming the overwhelming nervousness I've in trying to make the first gay love story for straight people. It is challenge of placing the two men together on the silver screen in a way that doesn't come across as looking melodramatic or foolish.
Part of the difficulty is that there are just virtually no successful cinematic precedents, that the makers of Front Runner can point to that would assuage the nerves of the financiers. In I982's Personal Best writer/director Robert Towne concretely focussed his camera on two female track stars, played by Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly, who become romantically entangled, but that movie was plagued by a behind-the-scenes struggle to control that pitted Towne against gay producer David Geffen and, despite some good reviews, grossed a measly $4.5 million. The straight world ignored the movie, while some gay quarters raised objections to both Donnelly's lesbian, finding her too stereotypically anti-male, and Hemingway's bi-girl, who ends up safely in the clutches of a man.
Louganis' I995 memoir, Breaking the Surface, might have made an interesting test case -its hero is not just gay, but also HIV-positive-but, before it could even be considered for a feature film, it was picked up by the USA Network, which gave it the inspirational TV-movie treatment in I996. (Perhaps Hollywood could take a lesson from Thailand, where a smash hit called Satree Lek ("Iron Woman"), a docudrama about a transvestite volleyball team from Lampang that won the national men's championship.
Documentary filmmaker Laura Plotkin found success on the film festival circuit with her one-hour documentary RED RAIN a portrait of lesbian boxer Gina "Boom-Boom" Guidi, the IFBA Junior Middleweight Champ, and is currently promoting the film through her website. (www.lolaiilms.net). Plotkin reports, "Audiences respond to her not just as a gay woman, not just as an athlete, but as a person who has faced personal trauma and overcame it. "But while there has been some interest in to turning her story into a longer film, "there's nothing concrete".
Ironically, Gir(ftght, a fictional film set in the world of female boxing, was a popular hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival and will be released this summer by Sony Pictures, but its fiery heroine, played by newcomer Michelle Rodriguez, is decidedly straight. Still, Hollywood is currently flirting with a number of gay-themed sports films, even if it can't quite commit to any of them. Peter Lefcourt's I992 novel, The Dreyfus Affair, which recounts the upheavals surrounding a love affair between two baseball stars, has already passed through two studios, Disney and Fox, and is currently waiting in the bullpen at New Line, where director Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie) is attached. "We're hoping it's Betty's next movie," says her producing partner Jenno Topping. "But we can't be sure until the budget, script and casting are ill locked down." One possibility: If the project, which has yet to win a start-date, fits into his schedule, Ben Affleck is interested in joining the team.
Undaunted by the hurdles, screen writer Kate Kondell has penned a comedy, NFL' A Love Story, about two football players who find love in the huddle. "I've always been a big football fan", explains Kondell, who happens to be straight, "and when my dad and I used to watch games together, we'd joke about what would happen if a relationship developed between two players." Although her screenplay has won her lots of attention-and Three Kings director David O. Russell, for whom she's worked, has agreed to serve as executive producer-producer Bill Gerber, whose home studio, Warner, has passed on the project, says, "So far, people have reacted to the fantastic screenplay, but they are just afraid of making it. But I'm determined to get it done, even if we have to make it on a very small budget."
The trouble isn't the sport angle, it's the gay thing, theorizes The Front Runner's St. Mark. "Not even gay executives in the industry seem to want to gamble their reputations on this," he adds. "We're pretty much where black films were back in the '40s and early '50s-they were predominantly remanded to black theaters just like little gay movies now play mostly in art houses. A gay film usually doesn't cost more than one million or a million and a half-it's put into the gay film festivals and handled by a boutique distributor--that's the formula. The idea of making a mainstream feature about two men in love for mainstream theaters, to open in 2,000 houses across the country, is still overwhelming. But if we can' do that, if we can demonstrate that a predominantly gay love story can transcend a gay demographic and speak to all audiences, then we will for all time have opened up mainstream motion-picture making.
©Metro Source Magazine
DISH: Round 2, take 6
By Stephanie Trong
I've heard about things coming in threes, but fives? Directors have been going crazy over broads punching each other's lights out. Gir/fight, the upcoming acclaimed release about a tomboyish high schooler who kicks ass, is only one of several current girl-boxing flicks. "Boxing is a battle of wills that's played out extremely visually, so it's a natural interest for a filmmaker," theorizes Katya Bankowsky, director of Shadow Boxers, a new documentary focusing on 32-year-old Dutch powerhouse Lucia Rijker. Yeah, but what's with all the chicks? "Women are raised to be the caretakers of the world, they're not trained to be gladiators. So when one does get in the ring, there's a fascination with what makes her tick," offers Laura Plotkin, director of Red Rain, a look at real-life lady-in-gloves Gina Guidi still another doc, Grammy-nominated On the Ropes, features female fighter Tyrene Manson. And then there's Knockout, a pretty standard fight film with a gal protagonist. At times these flicks seem just like Rocky or When We Were Kings, but then again, the guys in those movies didn't have to constantly battle skeptics who thought they had no business putting on their gloves. That appears to be a division strictly reserved for those who wear sports bras.
© Jane Magazine