By Elias Cepeda
If you ask a movie reviewer what sets great movies apart from good ones, many would tell you that great movies are the ones that manage to transcend their premises. The Rocky series wasn’t about boxing; it was a story of an underdog who succeeded through hard work and determination in the face of impossible odds. Fight Club wasn’t about dudes beating each other up in basements; it was a dirge for our lost masculinity and the rise of anonymous consumerism.
And the new MMA documentary Fightville isn’t about the fighting; it’s about the struggle.
Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker — who have previously collaborated on four other full-length features, including the Iraq war documentary Gunner Palace — Fightville is a gritty and thought-provoking glimpse into the human condition that should appeal to fight fans as well as fans of good filmmaking. Simply put, it’s the best MMA documentary since The Smashing Machine.
Fightville has been drawing buzz since last year’s SXSW film festival, and is set to release on April 20th in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, as well as on VOD and iTunes. The film centers on Tim Credeur’s Gladiators Academy and the nondescript dirt-floor rodeo arenas in Lafayette, Louisiana, but it could just have easily taken place in Anytown, USA, where similar dramas are being played out in countless MMA gyms and regional promotions.
Filmed three years ago, prior to Credeur’s star pupil Dustin Poirier’s Octagon debut and ascension up the UFC featherweight ranks, the story shows the contrast between Poirier’s traversal up a rocky and winding path to his goal of signing with the UFC, and his teammate Albert Stainback’s attempts to find the amount of dedication necessary to make it as a fighter. Giving Mickey Goldmill a run for his money, Credeur is a genuine mentor to the pair, offering equal parts encouragement, advice and tough love as necessary.
A pair of training scenes perfectly captures Credeur’s carrot-and-stick coaching method, as well as his two students’ difference in commitment-level. With Poirier, Credeur takes a gentle and encouraging approach to sparring, recognizing that Dustin has been preparing dutifully for an upcoming bout. Meanwhile, Stainback — who had been MIA for most of his training camp for his fight on the same card — is rewarded with a full-on ass-whooping by a few of Credeur’s star pupils, who are ordered to “green-light” Stainback for his lack of discipline.
Although we’ve seen Poirier go a perfect 4-0 in the UFC since the film was shot — with his first UFC headlining appearance opposite Chan Sung Jung scheduled for May 15th — I still felt let down when the movie was over, because I wanted to see it all play out on screen. In filmmaking circles, I believe this is what’s known as “setting up the sequel.”